North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia was significant on several fronts. Some had laid emphasis on the political aspects of this visit and its impact on future talks between North Korea and the United States. Some others mainly focused on Russia-North Korea ties and looked into their political and economic aspects.
Relationship in Russia and Korea
In the meantime, a highly significant issue in such bilateral ties as well as ongoing developments in the Korean Peninsula is Russia’s oil sales to North Korea.
Russia and North Korea have long had ties. During the Cold War, the then Soviet Union was a big supporter of North Korea. During the Korean War, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics along with China came out in support of North Korea, laying the groundwork for ideological division in the Korean Peninsula.
Russia became a key partner for North Korea and a key element of security in the peninsula. IN the 1950s, Moscow trained North Korean nuclear scientists to develop nuclear arsenals. Russia regularly supplied weapons and military hardware to North Korea.
The relationship ran into trouble after the collapse of the USSR. Internal unrest in Russia and economic problems undermined Moscow’s support for Pyongyang. Such conditions continued until Vladimir Putin came to power. From 2003 to 2009, Russia was a member of the Group of Six talks with North Korea. Russia wrote off North Korea’s $10 billion debt and donated 50,000 tonnes of wheat to the reclusive state.North Korea is seeking to win Russia’s economic support in a bid to alleviate US pressure. It also needs Moscow’s political support throughout denuclearization talks with the US.
Oil Sanctions North Korea
After North Korea test-fired a long-range missile in 2017, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2397 limiting the North Korean import of refined petroleum to 500,000 barrels for each 12-month period, starting on January 1, 2018. Furthermore, the resolution requires UN member states to report any supply of petroleum products to North Korea to the international body. Despite all restrictions, oil exports to North Korea have never come to a halt.
Russia North Oil Supply
It is clear that the bulk of North Korea’s economy heavily depends on Russia’s oil. North Korea has a single oil refinerywhich was designed by the Russians.
A recent internal report by an expert panel under the UN Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee said North Korea probably received far more petroleum in 2018 than allowed under United Nations sanctions, with Russia and China appearing to look the other way on illicit transfers of oil at sea.
Russia told the UN sanctions committee that it supplied North Korea with about 7,000 tons of oil in December alone. Its reported supply volume combined with China's makes for over 48,000 tons sent during 2018 as a whole - about 80% of the annual import limit when converted into barrels.
Russia supply oil to North Korea via three routes:
The first method is Russia’s direct oil sales to North Korea.
The second method is the transfer of oil on Russian tankers from Nakhodka and Vladivostok ports via Singaporean intermediaries.
The third method is Russia’s oil sales via Chinese buyers.
Russia’s support of North Korea and its continued oil supply to the Communist state shows that the US’s maximum pressure on this country in the energy sector will fail to deeply affect Pyongyang. Therefore, Russia’s oil exports to North Korea represent an equation which would herald the failure of the US policy.In other words, Russia’s actions will not only neutralize US sanctions policy on North Korea, but also it would affect future talks between Washington and Pyongyang.