Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s recent trip to North Korea elicited a warning on Monday from the U.S. State Department that Washington “won’t hesitate” to impose sanctions on entities that are found to be supporting Pyongyang or Moscow’s military programs.
Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also announced Tuesday that South Korea would consider applying its own sanctions against those who facilitate the North’s violations of international sanctions or its development of banned weapons.
Shoigu’s attendance at a military parade in Pyongyang on Thursday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, where the North prominently displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and new drones, has sparked speculation of increased military cooperation between the two countries.
“It certainly did not appear that Defense Minister Shoigu was in North Korea for vacation,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, who was asked for comment regarding Shoigu’s visit to Pyongyang at a Monday press briefing in Washington.
Miller also noted that the closer relationship between Russia and the North has “not exactly been productive” in terms of fostering international security.
Concerns about military cooperation between Russia and North Korea grew after the parade on Saturday when the Financial Times reported on Saturday that Ukraine’s military is firing North Korean-made rockets against Russian forces.
Given that the North has voiced strong support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, how its munitions wound up in Ukrainian hands remains unclear.
But the weapons’ arrival on the battlefields of Ukraine appear to validate multiple warnings by U.S. intelligence in the past year that the North is supplying arms to Russia.
While Miller declined to provide additional detail on the significance of Shoigu’s visit to Pyongyang, he noted that the United States has not only “imposed a number of sanctions on North Korea in the past for various activities, but also imposed sanctions on a number of entities and individuals around the world for assisting Russia in its war effort,” adding, “We won’t hesitate to do so in the future.”
After Pyongyang’s state media on Thursday released photos of Shoigu being guided through a weapons exhibition by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry issued a reminder through deputy spokesperson Ahn Eun-ju that “all weapons trade with North Korea is banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions” and called on Russia “to contribute to the cessation of provocations and return to dialogue for denuclearization” by the North.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk also announced on Tuesday that the South Korean government would review the possibility of levying its own sanctions against “individuals or institutions that are involved or support the North’s illegal nuclear weapons and missile programs in violation of existing sanctions,” adding that the agents in the alleged weapons trade between Russia and North Korea would also likely be targeted.
Despite Seoul and Washington urging Moscow and Beijing to induce Pyongyang to return to denuclearization talks, it remains to be seen if either Russia or China will pay heed.
Both countries’ messages to the North on the 70th anniversary of the armistice signing emphasized their joint experience of fighting the U.S. military in the Korean War, as well as their shared interests amid heightened global tensions, while mentioning nothing about reining in the North’s illicit weapons programs.
In his letter to Kim, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China and North Korea “share a comradeship written in blood” and that the two countries should “promote bilateral ties regardless of international circumstances.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin likewise thanked Pyongyang for its “solidarity” with Moscow “on key international issues” in a speech reported by the North’s state-controlled Korean Central News Agency, adding that “the historic experience of combative friendship” between the two countries “serves as a reliable foundation to further develop the connection between Russia and North Korea in the field of politics, economy and safety.”
As permanent veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council, both China and Russia have repeatedly tabled or vetoed attempts by the United States and its allies to pass additional sanctions against North Korea for carrying out an unprecedented number of missile launches last year in defiance of previous resolutions targeting its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Ham Sang-wook, South Korea’s ambassador to Austria, urged the North to cease “all kinds of provocations” at the first preparatory meeting for the 11th conference to review the status of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in Vienna on Monday.
The South Korean ambassador noted that the North remains the only country out of 191 NPT signatories to have announced its withdrawal from the treaty to date.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]