Russia’s ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matzegora has warned that if oil shipments to the region are reduced again, North Korea will consider it an act of war. Additionally, he has also noted that this will result in a humanitarian crisis.
North Korea has been hit with multiple sanctions by the UN in 2017.
In 2006, after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, the UN Security Council passed harsh economic sanctions on the region. Resolution 1718 in 2006 demanded that North Korea cease nuclear testing and prohibited the export to North Korea of some military supplies and luxury goods. In addition, the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea was established, supported by the Panel of Experts.
However, undeterred, North Korea has continued its nuclear programme. In 2017, it conducted over 20 missile test launches and conducted its sixth nuclear test. It was the nation’s most powerful test yet. According to reports, the country detonated a hydrogen bomb that could be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile.
In 2017, United Nations has repeatedly imposed new sanctions on North Korea. There is now a ban on textile exports and a call to reduce oil imports by 30%. There is also a ban on hiring North Korean workers overseas. There are currently 100,000 North Koreans employed outside of the country. North Korea’s economy would be particularly hit as its trade with China has also been affected. The combined value of North Korea’s 2016 export to China, of coal, iron-ore, lead-ore, and seafood, all of which are now banned, was almost $1.5 billion. This is about 60% of its total exports.
In December 2017, the UN security council unanimously approved tough new sanctions on North Korea. This was in response to its latest launch of a ballistic missile. Experts note that this was its most potent missile and it is capable of reaching anywhere on the US mainland.
North Korea and Russia (called Soviet Union at the time) were close allies during the Cold War. However, relations between them have loosened since the fall of the Soviet Union. The relationship gained some importance again after Kim Jong-un accepted an invitation to visit Russia (2014–15). The two states share a border along the lower Tumen River. Russia and China are together considered the most important allies for North Korea.
Despite voting in favor of sanctions on North Korea, Russia has often advocated to ending the increased rhetoric between US and North Korea. In September 2017, Putin put it plainly that North Korea will not yield to sanctions. The Russian President said that while North Korean actions were “provocative,” sanctions will be ultimately useless. He said, “They'd rather eat grass than abandon their [nuclear weapons] program unless they feel secure. And what can establish security? The restoration of international law. We should promote dialogue among all interested parties.”
Now, Alexander Matzegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea has warned that if oil shipments to the region are further reduced, North Korea will consider it an act of war. Additionally, he has also noted that this will result in a humanitarian crisis. “We can’t lower deliveries any further. Official representatives of Pyongyang have made it clear that a blockade would be interpreted by North Korea as a declaration of war, with all the subsequent consequences,” he said.
Matzegora said that the current quota of oil imports allowed by the UN sanctions “is a drop in the ocean for a country of 25 million people.” Currently, 540,000 tonnes of crude oil are permitted. In addition, 60,000 tonnes oil products are also allowed. Much of these imports are from Russia and China.
It is unlikely that the US will ease the sanctions on North Korea. During his recent State of the Union address, US President Donald Trump specifically targeted as a threat to the US. The US has also added to existing sanctions on North Korea including measures against its crude oil ministry. This was condemned by North Korea.
Tensions between North Korea and South Korea had increased in 2017. However, in January 2018, the ties became better after North Korea agreed to participate in the upcoming Olympic games in Seoul.
Our assessment is that any progress made between North and South Korea in the recent weeks could be threatened by further sanctions. North Korea has not only agreed to participate in the Olympic games but has also signaled it was willing to partake in dialogue working towards a solution. Russia, which is one of North Korea’s closest allies, has often spoken against US actions on the isolated state. Recently, after US imposed additional sanctions, Russia noted that it was under no obligation to recognize them. The imposition of new sanctions especially hitting oil imports could disrupt the delicate and tentative peace that has been struck and could result in war.