Russian tankers have reportedly transferred oil to North Korea on at least three occasions over the past months. According to an exclusive report from Reuters, Russia used their ships to deliver the cargoes.
Two senior Western European security insiders, acting as sources for the media outlet, have confirmed the oil smuggling allegedly conducted by Russia. However, U.S. President Donald Trump is blaming China for the event.
The uncalled mention of China may spark another turbulence between the two countries, but the oil smuggling may be bigger than Trump himself. According to NBC News, Russia’s import is already a breach of U.N. sanctions on North Korea.
The first security source told Reuters that the Russian ships made transfers of petrochemicals on several occasions. The second source confirmed the transfers but noted that so far, there is no evidence pointing the direct involvement of Russian government in these transfers.
As the issue tenses up, Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Customs Service both declined to comment.
China, on the other hand, issued an official statement saying they have no participation in the said transfers.
Oil Lifeline & Russian Ports
North Korea’s U.N. Sanctions are strict and oil is one thing they are relying on the most. The nation uses oil for building and testing their ballistic missile program.
Though there is no proof yet that the Russian government intervened in these transfers, Reuters noted that the Russian tanker Vityaz was confirmed to be doing the ship-to-ship transfers.
In the ship satellite positioning data, the Vityaz traveled from the port of Slavyanka on Oct. 15 with 1,600 tonnes of oil. The travel documents noted that the Vityaz was supposed to go to the Japan Sea, but the satellite data showed it switched off its transponder for a few days so there’s no way of locating it in open waters.
That same timeline, the sources conclude that the Vityaz did the transfer with the flagged North Korean San Ma 2 tanker which also turned off its transponder starting August.
The deputy director of the tank’s owner Yarolslav Guk spoke with Reuters and said that it would be a “complete madness” to do that because it’s very “dangerous.” They did not comment on the second interview.
Additionally, two other Russian flagged tankers made similar routes during October and November while switching off their transponders so that no shipping data was showed.
Even with sources and data reports, Trump is still persistent to punish China as the United States has submitted a list of ships to ban to the United Nations Security Council.
The U.N. has not concluded on blacklisting the ships on the U.S. proposal that are accused of “conducting illegal ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels.”
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