US Warns Of Russia-North Korea Refined Petroleum Trade

By Taejun Kang

Russia delivered more than 165,000 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea in March alone, U.S. officials said, noting the U.S is working with South Korea, Japan and other partners to roll out new sanctions this month against those aiding it.

“In March alone, Russia shipped more than 165,000 barrels of refined petroleum (to the North),” said the U.S. National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby on Thursday. “Given the close proximity of Russian and North Korean commercial ports, Russia could sustain these shipments indefinitely.”

Under U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, Pyongyang is banned from importing more than 500,000 barrels of refined petroleum products per year.

“The United States is going to continue to impose sanctions against all those working to facilitate arms and refined petroleum transfers between Russia and the DPRK,” Kirby added. DPRK, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is North Korea’s official name. 

Separately, Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesperson, said that Washington was working with its partners, including South Korea, Britain, Australia, the European Union, New Zealand and Japan, to announce new coordinated sanctions designations this month.

His remarks came after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday that 50 U.N. members, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea, were considering alternatives to ensure continued “objective and independent” monitoring of sanctions on North Korea after the recent dissolution of a panel investigating suspected violations.

The U.N. panel of experts, tasked with investigating violations of sanctions related to North Korea’s prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs, was officially dissolved on Tuesday. This followed the U.N. Security Council’s failure to renew the panel’s mandate on March 28 due to a veto by permanent council member Russia.

Russia’s veto at the U.N. Security Council came amid accusations by the U.S. and South Korea that North Korea was providing weapons for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both Russia and North Korea deny that.

But the expert panel, in a report released in March, provided photographic evidence of Russia’s sanction-violating arms transactions with North Korea and confirmed investigations into these transfers.

Cybersecurity advisory

The U.S. also issued a cybersecurity advisory against a North Korea-linked hacking group called Kimsuki on Thursday, accusing it of using malicious emails to U.S. government officials and experts to gather information about U.S. policy toward the North. 

Kimsuki seeks to gather information about North Korea, including geopolitical events and foreign policy strategies, by hacking into the emails, documents, and devices of U.S. government officials, think tanker members, and journalists, according to the advisory released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the National Security Agency.

Kimsuki, affiliated with North Korea’s General Reconnaissance Department, was added to the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list in December last year.

A State Department official explained that North Korea has been cut off from the outside world for the past four years due to COVID-19 and had refused to engage in diplomatic dialogue, suggesting that the government may be resorting to hacking because it is not using the usual means to gather information about other countries.