10,000 North Korean Workers Allowed in Russia Despite UN Ban: Report

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.

U.S. officials said Russia’s actions appear to violate UN sanctions imposed last year, 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.

The Southeast Asian country 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 Labor Ministry records obtained by WSJ 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.

Russia’s ambassador to North Korea said on Friday Moscow had not violated UN sanctions restricting the employment of North Korean laborers and not brought in any new workers from the country.

U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters, “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.”