Japan, South Korea announce sanctions over Russia-North Korea arms trade

Pyongyang is accused of sending thousands of containers of munitions to Moscow for its use in the war against Ukraine.

A person in a hat watching a news bulletin about North Korea's missile launch The screen is showing file footage from a previous test.
Experts have said Pyongyang's recent testing spree may be of weapons destined for Russian use on battlefields in Ukraine [File: Ahn Young-joon/AP]

Japan and South Korea have announced separate sanctions packages targeting companies, vessels or individuals allegedly involved in supplying North Korean weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, in violation of United Nations resolutions.

Friday’s announcements come just days before the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China meet in Seoul for their first trilateral summit in nearly five years.

Recently, Pyongyang has been accused of sending thousands of containers of munitions to Russia, and experts have said Pyongyang’s recent testing spree may be of weapons destined for use on battlefields in Ukraine.

On Friday, Japan’s top government spokesperson Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tokyo “strongly condemns” the alleged deals.

“We have cooperated with allies like the United States to freeze the assets of 11 groups and one individual involved in the Russia-North Korea military assistance meant to support Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine,” he told reporters.

“It violates the UN security resolutions that categorically ban the transfer with North Korea of weapons and related materials.”

Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that nine of the groups and the individual were in Russia while the other two organisations, based in Cyprus, allegedly helped transport weapons from North Korea.

In August, the US Treasury Department imposed similar sanctions as it said Russia was using up munitions and losing heavy equipment in Ukraine, forcing Moscow to turn to its few allies, including Pyongyang, for support.

Russia has been waging a war against Ukraine since 2014, and it launched a full-scale invasion against its former Soviet satellite state in 2022.

Moscow-Pyongyang ties

Also on Friday, South Korea imposed its own sanctions on two Russian vessels and seven North Koreans for various activities, including allegedly trading military supplies between Moscow and Pyongyang.

The vessels were “carrying a large quantity of containers between Russia and North Korea transporting military supplies,” Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pyongyang last week denied the allegations that it is shipping weapons to Russia, saying it had “no intention to export our military technical capabilities to any country”.

But North Korea recently bolstered ties with Moscow.

North Korea thanked Russia last month for using its UN Security Council veto to block the renewal of a panel of experts that monitored international sanctions on leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Seoul said on Friday that one of the newly sanctioned North Koreans was allegedly involved in discussions to facilitate arms deals with a member of Russia’s Wagner Group from 2022 to 2023.

Another was engaged in bringing diesel – a critical material for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programmes – from Russia into North Korea, it added.

Five additional North Koreans were involved in helping raise funds to support Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes by earning foreign currency as IT workers while residing “illegally in Vladivostok”.

Last month, Russia described South Korea’s sanctions on Russian individuals and entities as an “unfriendly move” and warned it would respond in due course.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies