Russia's ambassador to the United Nations claims that Moscow won protections for important economic projects in the drafting of tough new sanctions on North Korea.
In remarks to reporters after the UN Security Council unanimously approved the tightened sanctions, Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin said he negotiated with the United States to ensure Russia can continue building a rail link from Khasan on Russia's east coast to the North Korean port of Rajin to deliver coal and other Russian exports to China and South Korea.
"Like China, we also have certain economic interests which have nothing to do with North Korea's nuclear and missile program," Churkin said.
"I am referring to a rather serious project of our Russian Railways Co., namely the construction of a railroad to North Korea that will be used to deliver Russian coal to some of China's southern regions and to South Korea," he said.
As a result of Russia's effort to carve out the exemption, he said, the project is "intact...as are our other economic interests."
For Russia, the Korean rail project is crucial as it has been seeking to develop its Far Eastern region and diversify its energy export routes away from Europe. Pyongyang also seeks to use the project to secure outside revenue sources and shore up its debilitated economy.
Russia delayed UN approval of the new North Korean sanctions for several days, not only to negotiate the railway exemption but to gain other exceptions from the sanctions, diplomats said.
In a surprise move, Russia won provisions allowing Korea to import airplane fuel for the civilian aircraft of international carriers flying to North Korea, and allowing it to export minerals such as coal to earn "livelihood" revenues.
Those appear to be the only exceptions to the otherwise tough sanctions measure, which strictly bans the importation of coal, iron ore, titanium, vanadium, and other precious metals from North Korea while banning the delivery of aviation and rocket fuel to Pyongyang.
Russia also negotiated the removal of one name from the list of individuals being sanctioned, the Russia-based representative of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, which the U.S. Treasury Department has said is a state-owned entity involved in arms dealing.
Jang Song Chol, Churkin said, "is not even in Russia. We are surprised he appeared [on the list] in the first place."
Russia cited concern over the humanitarian impact of the sanctions in crafting the exemptions.
But U.S. and European representatives at the UN said the sanctions target only the North Korean regime and its elite ruling class, and are not aimed at ordinary people already enduring hardships.
With reporting by TASS, Wall Street Journal, Korea Herald, and AFP