Russian officials have allegedly allowed the release of $9 million out of $30 million in frozen North Korean assets deposited in a Russian financial institution, according to American-allied intelligence officials.
They claim that this money will be used by North Korea to purchase crude oil. The officials also suggest that Russia may be helping North Korea to get around U.N. sanctions, which prohibit most banks from doing business with North Korea, by allowing a North Korean front company to open an account at another Russian bank.
The account is held in South Ossetia, a self-proclaimed independent state in the Caucasus region that has close connections with Russia. However, it is unclear whether Russia has given North Korea the military technology it may want, although new banking ties would be another sign of the steady advancement in relations between the countries.
The White House recently claimed to have evidence that North Korea had provided ballistic missiles to Russia and that the North was seeking military hardware in return. North Korea also appears to have shipped up to 2.5 million rounds of ammunition, according to an analysis by a British security think tank.
Access to financial networks is just one item on North Korea’s wish list, according to experts. They suggest that what North Korea most wants from Russia is advanced military hardware, such as satellite technology and nuclear-powered submarines.
The expanding partnership between Russia and North Korea has most likely emboldened the North, as it has issued a stream of belligerent threats in recent months. The closer ties have already yielded diplomatic payoffs. After the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in eastern Russia last fall, Putin met in January with the North’s foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, in Moscow.
During that meeting, Putin signaled that he might soon visit Pyongyang, his first trip to North Korea’s capital in nearly 25 years, according to the North’s state media. However, U.S. officials say that the expanding partnership has raised concerns, as it may have contributed to the North’s transfer of weapons to Moscow for use against Ukraine.