North Korea’s Support for Russian-Occupied Ukraine Would Violate U.N. Sanctions

COMMENTARY Asia

North Korea’s Support for Russian-Occupied Ukraine Would Violate U.N. Sanctions

Aug 11, 2022 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Bruce Klingner

Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center

Bruce Klingner specializes in Korean and Japanese affairs as the senior research fellow for Northeast Asia.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un prepares to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on June 30, 2019. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Unsubstantiated Russia media reports indicate that North Korea has offered 100,000 troops to assist Russia in fighting in Ukraine. 

The veracity of the report about a large number of North Korean soldiers is highly questionable. 

Washington continues to refrain from targeting Chinese banks and businesses that violate resolutions and U.S. laws on behalf of North Korea.

North Korea reportedly is discussing sending workers and soldiers to Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine in exchange for shipments of industrial equipment and energy supplies.

Any of those actions would violate several U.N. resolutions imposed on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities.

In July, North Korea supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine by diplomatically recognizing the “independence” of the Russian-backed separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora told the Russian newspaper Izvestia that North Korea could send workers to help rebuild Donbas. Matsegora commented that the workers would restore infrastructure and industrial facilities.

In return, North Korea could receive equipment from heavy engineering factories in the region. Pyongyang reportedly is planning to send more than 1,000 North Korean workers currently in Russia to the Donbas region and then send additional workers directly from North Korea if requested by the Russian government.

U.N. Resolution 2397, passed in 2017, precludes the sale or transfer of certain industrial machinery to North Korea (paragraph 7) and required the repatriation of all North Korean nationals from foreign countries by 2019 while prohibiting any North Korean nationals from earning income in other nations (paragraph 8).

Unsubstantiated Russia media reports indicate that North Korea has offered 100,000 troops to assist Russia in fighting in Ukraine. 

Russian military pundit Igor Korotchenko made the claim on Channel One Russia. He said that North Korean troops were highly adept at countering artillery warfare and would assist Russian forces after the recent deployment of high-precision U.S. artillery to Ukraine.

Any North Korean military assistance to Russia would also violate U.N. resolutions. U.N. Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, prohibits North Korean exports of heavy weapons, such as tanks, artillery, and missiles, and requires U.N. member states to prevent their transfer (paragraph 8).

U.N. Resolution 1874 (paragraph 9), passed in 2009, and UN Resolution 2270(paragraph 6), passed in 2016, expanded the export ban to include all North Korean arms, including small arms and light weapons, as well as “technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms or materiel.”

North Korea also is prohibited from any military exports that “support or enhance the operational capabilities of armed forces of another Member State.” (U.N. Resolution 2270, paragraph 8).

Russia reportedly would provide energy and grain in return for the dispatch of North Korean soldiers. U.N. Resolution 2375, passed in 2017, prohibits the supply to North Korea of all condensates and natural gas liquids (paragraph 13).  U.N. Resolution 2397, passed in 2017, limits the annual amount of crude and refined petroleum that can be provided to North Korea (paragraphs 4 and 5).

The former resolution also precludes any joint ventures or cooperative entities with North Korea (paragraph 18); the latter resolution reiterates the prohibition of any North Korean national from earning income in other states (paragraph 8).

For all these activities, North Korean or other nations’ airlines, shippers, or banks that provided logistical or financial services support also would be subject to U.N. sanctions. (U.N. Resolution 2094, passed in 2013, paragraph 11)

The veracity of the report about a large number of North Korean soldiers is highly questionable. 

Previous overseas deployments of North Korean troops were as advisers or laborers. For example, North Korean special operations forces covertly provided training to Ugandan troops, including in martial arts and helicopter gunnery. In both capacities, the North Korean soldiers were earning currency for the communist regime.

Needless to say, any North Korean violations of U.N. resolutions related to activities in Ukraine would necessitate additional sanctions on North Korean, Russian, and any other nation’s entities. Moscow, like Beijing, voted for the 11 U.N. resolutions imposing sanctions and trade restrictions on North Korea.

Unfortunately, to date, the Biden administration—like its predecessors—has been lackadaisical in vigorously enforcing U.N. and U.S. sanctions against North Korean and other violators. 

Most notably, Washington continues to refrain from targeting Chinese banks and businesses that violate resolutions and U.S. laws on behalf of North Korea.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal