Russian Bank Holds Key to a North Korean Weapons Trade

February 6, 2024
1 min read

TLDR: Russia has allowed the release of millions of dollars in frozen North Korean assets and may be helping its isolated ally with access to international banking networks, according to American-allied intelligence officials. This assistance has come after the North’s transfer of weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine. While it is unclear whether Russia has given North Korea the military technology it may want, new banking ties would be another sign of the steady advancement in relations between the two countries. The expanding partnership has most likely emboldened the North, as it has issued a stream of belligerent threats in recent months, U.S. officials say.

Russia has allowed the release of $9 million out of $30 million in frozen North Korean assets deposited in a Russian financial institution, according to the intelligence officials, money that they say the impoverished North will use to buy crude oil. In addition, a North Korean front company recently opened an account at another Russian bank, the intelligence officials say, evidence that Moscow may be helping Pyongyang get around U.N. sanctions that prohibit most banks from doing business with North Korea. Those sanctions have choked the North’s economy and largely shut the country off from international financial networks.

The new bank account is held in South Ossetia, a self-proclaimed independent state in the Caucasus region that has close connections with Russia, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters.

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