August 19, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10149

Russia And North Korea, Two Sanctioned Countries, Draw Closer To Each Other

August 19, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10149

As the war in Ukraine lengthens, Russia is willing to draw closer to North Korea. North Korea recognized the breakaway Luhansk and Donets Peoples Republics prompting Ukraine to sever relations with Pyongyang. Moreover, this recognition has been followed by efforts to expand economic relations with the LPR and DPR. Rodion Miroshnik, LPR Ambassador to Russia, told Kommersant that the UN sanctions imposed against the DPRK will not pose an obstacle to cooperation. North Korean construction workers are expected in Donbass, given their high qualifications. Miroshnik believes that in return North Korea can become a market for machine-building and machine-tool products manufactured in the Donbass.

Russia has involved North Korea in its propaganda efforts. Recently, representatives of North Korea and Nicaragua, joined 'a particularly representative team of objective international experts' in visiting the pre-trial detention center in Yelenovka in the Donbass, where captured Azov Battalion fighters for Ukraine are held on war crimes charges.[1]

Nezavisimaya Gazeta recently ran an article on the improving ties between Moscow and Pyongyang titled Is Russia Ready to Violate UN’s Anti-North Korean Sanctions? It came away with the impression that Russia may try to get away with the violations. The article follows below:[2]

Vladimir Putin with Kim Jong-un (Source:

"North Korea’s main media outlet, KCNA (Korean Central News Agency) published two telegrams. They demonstrate that Russia and North Korea intend to strengthen bilateral cooperation. Perhaps, these are merely routine expressions typical of congratulatory telegrams, or it may be that the Kremlin has actually fact decided to intensify relations with the country, which is downright eager to become an ally.

'This represented an unprecedented case: the news of the congratulatory telegram sent by the [Russian] president was reported not by the Kremlin, but by the addressee party.

"KCNA published the text of Vladimir Putin’s congratulations to North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un on the occasion of the national holiday celebrated in both the south and the north of the Korean peninsula, i.e., Liberation Day. It’s the anniversary of the August 15, 1945 events, when Emperor Hirohito of Japan announced the country’s surrender in World War II.

"According to the KCNA, in his telegram, Putin, noting that the two countries 'revere the memory of the Red Army soldiers and Korean patriots who fought shoulder to shoulder for the liberation of Korea,' also mentioned the topic of bilateral cooperation. 'I’m confident that through joint efforts we will ensure the further strengthening of the entire range of constructive bilateral ties. This is fully consistent with our peoples' interests and is in line with the goal of strengthening security and stability in the Korean peninsula and the Northeast Asian region as a whole,' wrote the Russian president, according to the North Korean news agency.

"Kim Jong-un’s response telegram turned out to be much more colorful. In it he not only sent 'warm greetings to the Russian president, the Russian government and the people,' wishing Putin 'good health, and a great success in the crucial work of defending the sovereignty and interests of [his] country and people.' He also let it be understood that the two countries are now, as one might put it, 'on the same side of the barricades.' He [Kim] claimed that cooperation between the DPRK and Russia was moving 'to a new level.'

"Pyongyang and Moscow are now 'on a common front to frustrate military threats and provocation, and the tyrannical highhandedness of hostile forces.' In short, Kim Jong-un’s telegram was couched in a thoroughly forgotten style. Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of the current North Korean leader, and the founder of the ruling dynasty, had addressed the Soviet leaders in similar terms.

Kim Il Sung dining with Stalin (Source:

"Reasons for believing that DPRK - Russia relations will become closer have indeed emerged this year. North Korea is one of the few countries in the world that has fully supported Russia’s stance in its conflict with Ukraine. During the UN General Assembly in March, the DPRK (along with Syria, Belarus, Eritrea and Russia itself) voted against a resolution condemning the Russian operation. Finally, in July Kim Jong-un made a theatrical decision to support the Kremlin. The DPRK recognized the DPR’s and LPR’s independence. In turn, Ukraine severed diplomatic relations with it.

"Furthermore, there are signs that Russia may not be scrupulously observing the anti-North Korean sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in 2017. Their imposition facilitated, among other things, the breakdown of Soviet-era agreements on engaging DPRK nationals for work on Russian territory. The Kremlin has long been criticized for the use of North Korean labour.

"Many human rights activists and politicians in the US and the EU have compared [North] Korean loggers and construction workers to slaves by, due to both their working conditions and the fact that they have to transfer a larger part of their wages to their state. North Korea specialists however, claim unanimously that, on the contrary, work in the USSR and Russia, where living standards are much higher than that in the DPRK, had always been the object of desire for many North Koreans.

"Considerable bribes were paid for the right to be a slave at a construction site somewhere in Primorsky Krai, because a man returning home from there would become a wealthy man by local standards.

"Be that as it may, the agreements were severed. In January 2020, Pyotr Ilyichev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Organizations reported that 'practically all' North Korean workers had left Russia.

"However, on August 1 (2022), in an interview with RBC media, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin called North Korea’s labor workforce market 'most interesting.' A few days earlier, DPR leader, Denis Pushilin had announced plans to attract North Korean workers to rebuild Donbass.

"And on August 9, in a broadcast of the 'Solovyov live' show, Pushilin claimed that a group of specialists from the DPRK would arrive in Donetsk in the near future, in order to assess the amount of work to be done. Will this be perceived as a violation by by Russia of the international sanctions against the DPRK? Be that as it may, Moscow's official stance is not hard to guess: 'The DPR is not a member of the UN, which means the decisions of this organization are inapplicable to it. Russia’s opponents can point out that it’s hardly possible to transport the DPRK workers to Donbass without crossing Russian territory. Donetsk and Luhansk had no direct air links with Pyongyang even before 2014. Besides, it’s unclear how the DPRK will pay North Korean workers, if not with Russian funds.'

"However, the sanctions dispute won’t start until the DPRK workers actually show up in the DPR. For now, one can only say that at least Kim Jong-un strives to return to the formula for mutual relations with Moscow that existed during the Cold War. Back then, the USSR, as well as the PRC, were buying North Korean goods at inflated prices and was selling energy resources to the country at below-market prices.

"In return for such a subsidization of the inefficient North Korean economy, they received the loyalty of the DPRK in the confrontation with the US. Today cooperation with North Korea is unlikely to be mutually beneficial economically.

"According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, trade between the two countries has been declining over the recent years. In 2020, it [trade turnover] reached a modest 42.74 million USD (10.77% less than in 2019).

"And in 2021, due to the DPRK’s border closures caused by the [COVID-19] pandemic, exports from that country to Russia were virtually nil altogether. The country was simply buying Russian grain and hydrocarbons. By comparison, Russian trade with South Korea last year was over 29 billion USD, an increase of 52% since 2020.

"Konstantin Asmolov, a leading researcher at the Far East Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an interview with NG claimed that there are opportunities to strengthen economic cooperation between North Korea and Russia, given the modest level of trade turnover between the two countries and the North Korea’s demand. After all, a miniscule range of goods is supplied due to sanctions.

"'There are chances for the resumption of political ties, which have so far been curbed. Regarding the North Korean workers, the issue is more complicated. It all depends on the extent, to which the old rules will be respected in the new era,' claimed the expert."


[1], August 15, 2022.

[2], August 15, 2022.

Share this Report:

Help Fight Extremism - Support MEMRI

MEMRI is a 501(c)3 organization. All donations are tax-deductible and kept strictly confidential.