Russia uses veto to end UN monitoring of sanctions on North Korea

Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Kim Jong-un at a meeting in Russia in 2023
South Korea says the North is supplying arms to Russia - Vladimir Smirnov/AP

Russia has faced a backlash after using its veto to effectively end official UN monitoring of sanctions on North Korea, amid a probe into alleged arms transfers between Moscow and Pyongyang.

At a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday, Russia blocked the renewal of the panel of experts who investigate violations of sanctions tied to North Korea’s banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

South Korea’s foreign ministry on Friday slammed the move as an “irresponsible decision”.

Hwang Joon-kook, the South Korean ambassador to the UN, said Seoul had earlier accused Pyongyang of sending thousands of containers of weapons to Moscow for use in Ukraine  and Russia’s move was “almost comparable to destroying a CCTV to avoid being caught red-handed”.

The Kremlin defended its veto on Friday, saying UN sanctions on North Korea were hindering dialogue and peace on the Korean peninsula and had not aided regional security.

Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said: “Over the years, international restrictive measures have not helped to improve the security situation in the region.”

Maria Zakharova poses for a photograph at a music awards ceremony in Moscow in March
Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, said sanctions did not aid security

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters at a daily briefing that Moscow’s position was “more in line with our interests”.

The European Union called Moscow’s veto “an effort to conceal unlawful arms transfers between DPRK and Russia, in the context of the latter’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine”, referring to North Korea by its official name.

The United States, meanwhile, said the vote was a “self-interested effort to bury the panel’s reporting on its own collusion” with North Korea.

Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman, said after the Thursday vote: “Russia’s actions today have cynically undermined international peace and security, all to advance the corrupt bargain that Moscow has struck with the DPRK.”

Russia and China push to ease sanctions

The panel’s mandate expires at the end of April. North Korea has been under mounting sanctions since 2006, put in place by the UN Security Council in response to its nuclear programme.

Since 2019, Russia and China have tried to persuade the Security Council to ease the sanctions, which have no expiration date.

The council has long been divided on the issue. China abstained, rather than joining Russia in the veto. All other members voted in favour of renewing the expert panel.

Beijing said on Friday it opposed “blindly supporting sanctions” on North Korea.

Lin Jian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said: “The current situation in the [Korean] peninsula remains tense, and blindly imposing sanctions cannot solve the issue.

“A political solution is the only way,” he said, when asked why Beijing abstained during the vote. He added that a “showdown at the UN Security Council is not conducive to its authority”.

China and Russia have ramped up economic cooperation and diplomatic contacts in recent years and their strategic partnership has grown closer since the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzia earlier said that without an annual review to assess and potentially modify the sanctions, the panel was unjustified.

“The panel has continued to focus on trivial matters that are not commensurate with the problems facing the peninsula,” Mr Nebenzia said.

Additional Security Council sanctions were levelled on Pyongyang in 2016 and 2017, but the North’s development of its nuclear and weapons programmes has continued unabated.

Six rockets are launched at the same time in March this year in North Korea
North Korea has recently been test-firing missiles - KCNA

Last week, Pyongyang tested a solid-fuel engine for a “new-type intermediate-range hypersonic missile”, state media reported.

Recent cruise missile launches have prompted speculation that North Korea is testing those weapons before shipping them to Moscow for use in Ukraine.

In its latest report, issued at the beginning of March, the sanctions panel said North Korea “continued to flout” sanctions, including by launching ballistic missiles and breaching oil import limits.

It added that it is investigating reports of arms shipments from Pyongyang to Russia for use in Ukraine.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian foreign minister, took to social media on Thursday to call the veto “a guilty plea”.