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S. Korea slaps sanction on NK defense minister

Illicit Russia-NK military ties could lead to sanctions on Russia, Seoul says

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : Sept. 21, 2023 - 17:43

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North Korean officials attended a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the Russian port city of Vladivostok on Sept. 16, in the photo released by North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency. (Yonhap) North Korean officials attended a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in the Russian port city of Vladivostok on Sept. 16, in the photo released by North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency. (Yonhap)

The South Korean government on Thursday handed out the world's first unilateral sanction on North Korea's defense minister, who had accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on his recent trip to Russia. The financial sanctions also targeted other individuals and entities allegedly involved in illicit arms and financial transactions with third party countries, most notably Russia.

The announcement of sanctions appears to be a tit-for-tat response to indications of illicit military transactions between North Korea and Russia, which were brought to the forefront following the summit between Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Yoon Suk Yeol government designated a total of 10 individuals and two entities in an effort to "sternly respond to North Korea's illegal activities that pose a threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsulas and the international community," South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The financial sanctions target four individuals and two organizations engaged in arms trading with Russia and other third party countries, as well as three North Koreans involved in illicit financial transactions across Russia and other countries.

The remaining individuals subject to financial sanctions include three high-ranking North Korean military and party officials, among them the current North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam, who played key roles in North Korea's nuclear and missile development efforts.

Among the designated targets, seven, including Kang and the recently dismissed Chief of the General Staff of Korea People's Army Pak Su-il, along with one organization named Glocom, are being designated by South Korea for the first time worldwide.

Kang was a member of Kim's entourage during his recent trip to the Russian Far East, which primarily aimed to underscore North Korea and Russia's intention to bolster military cooperation, a move that is prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions.

The designations also encompass Cho Myong-chol, who represents the Vladivostok branch of North Korea's Cheil Credit Bank, and Ri Chang-min, who represents the Moscow branch of Tongsong Kumgang Bank.

The inaugural blacklisting reflects South Korea's dedication to "taking a leading role in the international community's endeavors to prevent and deter North Korea's violations and evasions of sanctions, including arms trade," the Foreign Ministry said.

"We expect that the subsequent designation of targets previously sanctioned by both the United States and the European Union will contribute to further enhance the effectiveness of international sanctions and strengthen cooperation among friendly countries in the realm of sanctions."

The Foreign Ministry said that South Korea will persist in using unilateral sanctions, noting that the sanctions imposed on Thursday represent the 12th instance since the Yoon government took office. So far, the Yoon government has designated a total of 64 individuals and 53 entities since last October.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin earlier in the day said that Seoul will consider imposing unilateral sanctions on Russia as a viable course of action should concrete evidence of illicit military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang be confirmed.

Chang emphasized that Russia's potential transfer of technologies to enhance North Korea's weapons of mass destruction would constitute a "serious violation of UN Security Council resolutions" if confirmed.

"This is an act that has heightened the direct security threat on the Korean Peninsula, and as such, we cannot simply turn a blind eye to it," Chang said during a plenary session of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

"Naturally, it is expected to have a significantly adverse impact on relations between South Korea and Russia."

South Korean lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about the security implications of Russia's potential transfer of technologies for North Korea's development of weapons in exchange for North Korea's provision of weapons to support Russia's unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The high-stakes Kim-Putin summit at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on Sept. 13 has been pointed out by the international community as the venue to facilitate such reciprocal deals prohibited by UNSC resolutions.

"If concrete evidence of such significant military cooperation between Russia and North Korea were to be confirmed ... we would be able to coordinate in imposing sanctions with the Western bloc and like-minded countries, including the United States, Japan and the European Union," Chang said. "We would, of course, consider levying unilateral sanctions."

Chang elucidated that the necessity for responses arises from the ineffectiveness of UNSC resolutions, particularly in light of Russia's disregard, as one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC.

Chang's comment came after President Yoon addressed the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, where he warned that South Korea, in alignment with its ally and partners, would not stand idly by should any illicit reciprocal exchanges between Russia and North Korea take place.