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Report: Russia Hiring North Korean Workers In Apparent Violation Of UN Sanctions

A North Korean Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic rocket
A North Korean Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic rocket

Russia is allowing thousands of North Korean laborers into the country and giving them new work permits in what U.S. officials say appear to be violations of UN sanctions, The Wall Street Journal reported on August 2.

Over 10,000 new North Korean workers have registered in Russia since September, the paper said, citing records from the Russian Interior Ministry.

The Wall Street Journal, citing U.S. officials, said Russia's actions appear to violate UN sanctions imposed in September, which barred governments from issuing new work permits to North Koreans, although they allowed some existing labor contracts to stay in place.

The sanctions are aimed at reducing cash flows that North Korea uses to finance its weapons programs, thus putting pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

North Korea has a guest-work program that primarily has sent workers to China and Russia with a mission of earning cash income that is sent back to Pyongyang, with the government keeping most of the earnings.

Moscow and Beijing agreed to stop taking in new workers last year in what was seen at the time as a significant concession to U.S. demands for stricter sanctions on North Korea.

But The Wall Street Journal said that Labor Ministry records it obtained showed that a minimum of 700 new work permits have been issued to North Koreans in Russia this year.

United Nations officials are probing whether the sanctions, which allow only narrow exceptions, are being violated, The Wall Street Journal said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment outside regular business hours.

"It's absolutely clear that Russia needs to do more. Russia says it wants better relations with the United States, so Moscow should prove that by cooperating with us, not working against us, on this urgent threat to all nations," a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters.

"It is estimated that North Korean laborers in Russia send between $150 million to $300 million annually to Pyongyang. Now is the time for Russia to take action: Moscow should immediately and fully implement all the UN sanctions that it has signed onto," the State Department spokesperson said.

On top of the possible labor sanctions violations, the United States recently charged that North Korea has exceeded the limits on oil products it was allowed to import this year under the UN sanctions.

Washington brought its allegations of oil sanctions violations before the UN Security Council last month, but its attempt to get action on what it said were illegal transfers of oil to North Korean ships on the high seas was blocked by Russia and China.

The labor and oil sanctions are part of a series of sanctions adopted by the Security Council last year that are aimed at eliminating important revenue streams for Kim Jong Un's government.

With reporting by Reuters and The Wall Street Journal
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