North Korea and Russia are ramping up trade in oil, coal and weapons as Ukraine war sanctions send Moscow to pariah state

North Korea and Russia are ramping up trade in oil, coal and weapons as Ukraine war sanctions send Moscow to pariah state
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  • A new CSIS report analyzed satellite imagery that suggests significantly increased trade between Russia and North Korea.
  • Wartime sanctions have pushed Moscow to turn to railroad trade with Pyongyang, the researchers wrote.

A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies highlighted an uptick in railroad trade between Russia and North Korea over recent months.

Given the abundance of sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, it's likely the ties are helping address Moscow's surge in weapons demand with North Korea getting energy commodities in return.

"The proliferation of railcars far outnumbers the number required to support the immediate nearby towns indicating a resurgence of railroad traffic between the two countries," the authors Joseph Bermudez Jr., Victor Cha, and Jennifer Jun wrote Friday.

They added that the level of goods transfers is returning to pre-COVID levels.

Trade between North Korea and Russia hit roughly $48 million in 2019, International Trade Centre data compiled by the Wall Street Journal shows. That dropped to nearly zero in 2021, with North Korea closing off its borders during the pandemic.


North Korea previously denied claims from a November report that said it was using the Tumangang-Khasan railroad crossing to sell artillery shells and rockets to Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary force that's fighting in Ukraine.

But the White House in January released satellite imagery of trains ferrying five shipping containers between the two nations, the Washington DC-based think tank noted.

"[T]he use of the Tumangang-Khasan railroad crossing for this arms sale indicates that this border crossing has witnessed a resurgence of strategic trade, sales, and transfer between the two countries," the authors wrote.

North Korea has the opportunity to capitalize on Russia's vast energy resources amid its own limited access to global markets and trade.

Russia, for its part, has been under ongoing economic strain from its invasion of Ukraine, and has been scrambling for inventories of munitions to replenish supplies used in Ukraine.


"North Korea benefits from this type of global instability," Rand Corp political scientist Naoko Aoki said in comments to The Wall Street Journal.

Since Russia first invaded Ukraine last February, North Korean state media has voiced support for Moscow's aggression and put blame on the US.

Similarly, over recent years, Russia has sided with North Korea in geopolitical conversations over sanctions on the Kim Jong-un's regime.