By Tom O’Connor
Russia’s ambassador to North Korea has warned that a United Nations attempt to cut all oil supplies to the nation could spark a global conflict.
In an interview with Russia state-run media, envoy Alexander Matsegora noted Wednesday that his country’s national security was being undermined by the nuclear and missile tests that have isolated North Korea from the international community—and made Pyongyang the target of a U.S.-led “maximum pressure” campaign.
As a result, Russia has joined U.N. sanctions against the government of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un, but Matsegora argued that going too far would be tantamount to declaring war.
“If oil and oil products supplies are ceased, this will mean a complete blockade of North Korea…Pyongyang’s official representatives have repeatedly stated that the blockade will be perceived by North Korea as a declaration of war with all the attendant consequences,” Matsegora told Sputnik News, an English-language affiliate of Russia’s state-run Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today, not to be confused with Russian television network RT).
Matsegora explained that current U.N. Security Council sanctions allowed North Korea to import 540,000 tons of crude oil through a single, aging pipeline from China and about 60,000 tons of oil products from China, Russia and other nations. The Russian envoy called this “a drop in the bucket” for the country of 25 million people who were “already experiencing an acute shortage of gasoline and diesel fuel, which leads to serious problems. It should not be reduced further.”
Last month, the U.N. Security Council voted to cut 90 percent of petroleum exports to North Korea, something the militarized state referred to as “an act of war.” The U.S. has repeatedly accused both China and Russia of defying these sanctions and covertly providing their neighbor with oil supplies at sea, something which both of them have denied.
A few years after the Korean Peninsula was split by the Soviet Union and the U.S., Moscow and Beijing both backed their northern communist proxy in a three-year 1950s war with its southern, U.N.-backed rival. Russia and China have grown less enthusiastic in their backing, however, as North Korea successfully pursued nuclear weapons and, as of last year, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking just about anywhere in the world.
Russia and China have also pushed back against what they perceive to be U.S. expansionism in the Asia-Pacific and warmongering with North Korea. In recent months, they have conducted joint drills in preparation for what some analysts have called a potential U.S. invasion of North Korea. As President Donald Trump’s threats to Pyongyang began to heat up in April, Moscow and Beijing denied widespread speculation that they had amassed their forces along their borders with the isolated nation, which has promised that its nuclear weapons were only pointed at the U.S.
To avoid such a conflict, Russia and China have attempted to push a “double-freeze” roadmap to peace that would see Kim’s regime halting nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a U.S. suspension of military drills in the waters off the Korean Peninsula. Trump, however, has rejected this proposal and, though North Korea had reached out for rare peace talks with South Korea, Pyongyang has only previously agreed to denuclearize if the U.S. first ended hostilities.
In addition to praising the Chinese-Russian “double freeze” approach, to which he said North Korea may still be amenable, Matsegora denied U.S. accusations that Russia was assisting North Korea’s struggling market by buying coal or acting as an intermediary for other countries purchasing coal. Matsegora also said Tuesday that Russia would send home all North Koreans working abroad there by the end of 2019 in line with the latest round of harsh U.N. sanctions, Reuters reported, citing Russia’s Interfax News Agency.
Trump had harsh words for North Korea in his first ever State of the Union speech Tuesday. He said Kim’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland” and vowed to continue his campaign of “maximum pressure” against North Korea.