April 2, 2024 | Policy Brief

Russian Veto Kills UN Body Monitoring North Korea Sanctions

Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on March 28 that would have renewed the mandate of a key panel of experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of UN sanctions against North Korea. The group’s reports — issued twice per year — provided critical information and intelligence that exposed violations of UN sanctions by both governments and private actors, while creating pressure on violators to comply.

Beijing abstained in the vote but supported Moscow’s action. Both countries have long violated UN sanctions on North Korea while stymying the panel’s reporting and threatening to repeal its mandate. For several years, former members of the panel have lamented Russian and Chinese obstruction of their reporting. At various times, Russian and Chinese appointees to the panel have also tried to undermine its reporting from within. Since 2009, however, the UNSC has annually renewed the panel’s mandate.

The panel reports to a UN committee charged with monitoring international compliance with a set of Security Council resolutions on North Korea. The resolutions include, among other provisions, restrictions on both foreign trade with Pyongyang and regime activities that generate revenue for the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs and other illicit activities. The panel collects information independently and also receives it from UN member states, then corroborates it thoroughly.

By torpedoing the panel, Russia appears to be repaying Pyongyang for supporting Moscow’s war in Ukraine. North Korea provides Russia with ballistic missiles, artillery shells, and other arms equipment, while Pyongyang likely receives oil and military assistance from Moscow. These exchanges violate the UN sanctions monitored by the panel of experts.

In what will probably stand as the panel’s final report, issued on March 7, the panel found that North Korea funded 40 percent of its weapons of mass destruction programs through cyberattacks and stole $750 million in cryptocurrency during 2023. The panel also reported that Pyongyang likely imported three times more petroleum than allowed under a cap imposed by the UN resolutions and that Russia provided a large portion. In addition, the panel found extensive evidence of Chinese non-compliance with the resolutions, such as the laundering of North Korean stolen funds.

While Russia’s move strikes a harsh blow to the international North Korea sanctions architecture, Washington can limit the damage. UN sanctions remain in effect and all member states, including Russia and China, have an obligation to implement them. Washington can use U.S. sanctions, which carry even stronger compliance requirements than UN sanctions, to target sources of Pyongyang’s revenue for prohibited programs and activities.

Yet enforcing extant measures is not enough. New ones are also necessary.

Last week, the Biden administration and the South Korean government targeted North Korean financial representatives in China and Russia that provide Pyongyang access to the international financial system. Yet these actions were not comprehensive since they did not target the Russian and Chinese companies, individuals, and banks that aid North Korea’s sanctions evasion. In light of Moscow’s destruction of the UN panel and persistent violations of UN sanctions by both Russia and China, the administration must adjust its approach to directly penalize these actors.

Anthony Ruggiero is an adjunct senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and served as the National Security Council’s director for North Korea (2018-2019) and senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense (2019-2021) in the Trump administration. Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program. For more analysis from the authors and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Anthony and Andrea on X @NatSecAnthony and @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations North Korea Russia