Russia also selling oil to North Korea on the sly

Reuters is reporting Western European security sources saying Russian vessels are selling oil products to North Korea via ship-to-ship transfers.  The news comes after senior U.S. intelligence officials confirmed that Chinese ships are also selling oil in international waters to the Kim regime.

Both China and Russia are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and voted to sanction North Korea by shutting off its access to oil.

The sales of oil or oil products from Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breach U.N. sanctions, the security sources said.

The transfers in October and November indicate that smuggling from Russia to North Korea has evolved to loading cargoes at sea since Reuters reported in September that North Korean ships were sailing directly from Russia to their homeland.

"Russian vessels have made ship-to-ship transfers of petrochemicals to North Korean vessels on several occasions this year in breach of sanctions," the first security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

A second source, who independently confirmed the existence of the Russian ship-to-ship fuel trade with North Korea, said there was no evidence of Russian state involvement in the latest transfers.

"There is no evidence that this is backed by the Russian state[,] but these Russian vessels are giving a lifeline to the North Koreans," the second European security source said.

The two security sources cited naval intelligence and satellite imagery of the vessels operating out of Russian Far Eastern ports on the Pacific but declined to disclose further details to Reuters, saying [they are] classified.

Russia's Foreign Ministry and the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment when asked on Wednesday if Russian ships had supplied fuel to North Korean vessels.  The owner of one ship accused of smuggling oil to North Korea denied any such activity.

The latest report came as China, responding on Friday to criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump, denied [that] it had illicitly shipped oil products to North Korea.

It's hard to accept Russian and Chinese government denials at face value.  The economies of both countries – one communist, the other authoritarian – are tightly controlled.  The idea that trade involving millions of dollars would go unnoticed by both regimes is difficult to believe.

More likely, the governments of China and Russia are turning a blind eye to the transactions.  They are given plausible deniability while enriching themselves and their cronies by selling oil – no doubt at a premium price. 

Meanwhile, our sanctions regime is being undermined by the two nations who could, if they chose, help us the most in causing pain to the Kim regime.  Since the North Korean government doesn't care about sanctions impact on its citizen, the only thing that matters is that the regime – and its top leadership – survive.  As long as there is enough oil to power their limos, heat their residences, and feed the top echelons of North Korean society, Kim will be impervious to sanctions, making war more and more inevitable.