Putin and Kim seem to be on a little bit of a bromance these days. It is speculated that Russia wants to get North Korean ammunition for its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

North Korea is under very heavy sanctions in general and has been so for years.

What are Russia's legal commitments to other countries, and/or international organizations like the UN that could curtain trade or barter deals with North Korea? Generally speaking, North can't get weapons, but it can get food.

Could, for example, Russia ship grain to North Korea in return for North Korean ammunition? How is Russia constrained in its acquisition of North Korean weapons? Are even purchases of North Korean weapons off limits?

This isn't about how much more North Korea, or Russia, can get sanctioned for weapon trade. It is about what constraints Russia has currently signed up to, concerning limits to its trade with North Korea.

Related South Korea's Yoon warns against Russia-North Korea military cooperation and plans to discuss at UN | AP News.

“Military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is illegal and unjust as it contravenes U.N. Security Council resolutions and various other international sanctions,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said in written responses to questions from The Associated Press before his departure to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

But of course, South Korea has a certain bias in the matter, so I am curious what the current obligations are.

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    Another important question, what would you do to Russia for trading witt NK that you wouldn't do to Russia otherwise?
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 20:23
  • 3
    Nope, that is a question that was already asked. This is not the question I am asking. How will we know when/if Russia breaks its UN obligations is the Q I am asking. Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 20:29
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    Nope - that one asked what can be done to NK.
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 20:31
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    @alamar See the bit about This isn't about how much more North Korea, or Russia, can get sanctioned for weapon trade.? I am not asking about sanctions that can be levied, simple as that. This is my question, so if you feel another question needs answering, feel free to ask it. Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 22:36
  • Russia also has bought drones from Iran.
    – user46918
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 8:53

2 Answers 2


The UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea releases an annual report every year. Their 2021 annual report includes a section titled 'IV. Exemptions', which details what is exempted from the sanctions. Some of these include:

  1. Small Arms and light weapons

Decides that the measures in paragraph 8 (a) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to all arms and related materiel, as well as to financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms, except for small arms and light weapons and their related materiel... - Resolution 1874 (2009)

  1. Food and medicine

Decides that the measures imposed in paragraphs 8 (a) and 8 (b) of resolution 1718 (2006) shall also apply to any item, except food or medicine ... Resolution 2270 (2016)

  1. Exemption to asset freeze

Decides that the provisions of paragraph 8 (d) above do not apply to financial or other assets or resources that have been determined ... (a) To be necessary for basic expenses, including payment for foodstuffs, rent or mortgage, medicines and medical treatment, taxes, insurance premiums, and public utility charges ... (b) To be necessary for extraordinary expenses ... (c) To be subject of a judicial, administrative or arbitral lien or judgement .... - Resolution 1718 (2006)

Reaffirms that the measures imposed by resolutions ... are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK or to affect negatively or restrict those activities, including economic activities and cooperation, food aid and humanitarian assistance, that are not prohibited ... Resolution 2371 (2017)

  1. Exemptions to bunkering services

Decides that Member States shall prohibit the provision ... of bunkering services, such as provision of fuel or supplies, or other servicing of vessels, to DPRK vessels ... believe they are carrying items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited ... unless provision of such services is necessary for humanitarian purposes ... and underlines that this paragraph is not intended to affect legal economic activities; - Resolution 1874 (2009)

  1. Exemptions relating to the coal, iron and iron ore ban

Decides that the provisions of this resolution shall not apply with respect solely to the trans-shipment of Russia-origin coal to other countries through the Russia-DPRK Rajin-Khasan port and rail project ... - Resolution 2397 (2017)

  1. Exemptions to aviation, rocket and jet fuel

Decides that all States shall prevent the sale or supply, ... of aviation fuel, including aviation gasoline, naptha-type jet fuel, kerosene-type jet fuel, and kerosene-type rocket fuel, ... unless the Committee has approved in advance on ... case-by-case basis the transfer to ... for verified essential humanitarian needs ... and decides also that this provision shall not apply with respect to the sale or supply of aviation fuel to civilian passenger aircraft outside the DPRK exclusively for consumption during its flight to the DPRK and its return flight - Resolution 2270 (2016)

  1. Exemptions relating to scientific and technical cooperation

Decides that all Member States shall suspend scientific and technical cooperation ... except for medical exchanges ... the Committee has determined on a case-by-case basis that a particular activity will not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or ballistic missile-related programmes; or (b) In the case of all other scientific or technical cooperation, the State engaging in scientific or technical cooperation determines that the particular activity will not contribute to the DPRK’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or ballistic missile-related programmes and notifies the Committee in advance of such determination; - Resolution 2321 (2016)

  1. Exemptions relating to crude oil and all refined petroleum products

Decides that all Member States shall prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK ... of all refined petroleum products ... up to 500,000 barrels during an initial period of three months ... and refined petroleum products in the amount of up to 2,000,000 barrels per year during a period of twelve months beginning on 1 January 2018 and annually thereafter ... - Resolution 2375 (2017)

Decides that all Member States shall prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK ... of all crude oil, unless the Committee approves in advance on a case-by-case basis ... exclusively for livelihood purposes of DPRK nationals and unrelated to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes ... this prohibition shall not apply with respect to crude oil that ... does not exceed 4 million barrels or 525,000 tons in the aggregate per twelve month period ... - Resolution 2397 (2017)

  1. Exemptions on industrial machinery, transportation vehicles and metals

Decides that all Member States shall prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to the DPRK ... of all industrial machinery (HS codes 84 and 85), transportation vehicles (HS codes 86 through 89), and iron, steel, and other metals (HS codes 72 through 83)... this provision shall not apply with respect to the provision of spare parts needed to maintain the safe operation of DPRK commercial civilian passenger aircraft (currently consisting of the following aircraft models and types: An-24R/RV, An-148-100B, Il-18D, Il-62M, Tu-134B-3, Tu-154B, Tu-204-100B, and Tu-204-300); - Resolution 2397 (2017)

( ... etc. etc. - as this list is from 2021, it maybe outdated as North Korea has since launched many more ballistic missiles and invited more sanctions).

Putin has also publicly said that Russia isn't, and wouldn't be, violating any existing [UN] sanctions against North Korea:

The UN Security Council, which includes Russia as a permanent member, has imposed sanctions that ban arms trade with North Korea. Putin has given an assurance that Moscow was observing existing restrictions. “But there are things that we certainly can consider,” he added, speaking to the Russian media after meeting Kim. “We have opportunities within the rules that are in place.” ... “We have many interesting projects,” Putin promised, naming as one example the plan to develop Russian railroad connectivity through North Korea. - Talks between Putin and Kim: What has emerged so far.

  • 1
    That's a good answer, but I wonder if it covers the purchase of NK weapons. Look at the referred-to Resolution 1718 : All Member States are required to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer to the DPRK, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of all arms and related materiel, including small arms and light weapons. I am unsure that covers purchases from NK (a laughable activity from a superpower). Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 4:42
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica That resolution was made in 2006, and the one I've quoted is from 2009 (who knows if even that is still valid). As for weapon purchases from NK, what is being alleged by US and South Korea is that Russia purchased ammunition (which is "small arms") from NK. Some sources also said missiles and drones, though I highly doubt that. (Actually, I believe looking at these aspects from Ukraine-war PoV is limiting and the cold war doctrines offer a better perspective of the improved Russia - NK relation ... but that's an answer for a different question).
    – sfxedit
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 5:06
  • There's an updated list of resolutions. The reason I cited 1718 is because the one you linked, for item #1, 1874, refers to 1718. Not a lawyer, but it looks like you could buy ammo from NK under #1, and trade grain/goods for it under #2 and #3. Does NK want grain and medicines in trade however? Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 5:44
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Yes, it appears that there have been starvation deaths in NK and they are facing a food shortage crisis. And since they are too proud to accept aid from "imperialists", they are turning to China and Russia. More here - nkeconwatch.com/2023/03/02/…
    – sfxedit
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 5:54

I believe that any economical sanctions are relative, in that the side which imposes sanctions expect to cause more economical damage by their application than it would suffer in return. This is compounded by existence of second order sanctions, where an individual party is coerced to implement sanctions by the group because it believes that imposing first-order sanctions will make it suffer less economical damage than not imposing them and facing second-order sanctions as a result.

For any country it is rational to walk away from sanctions application if it feels that it loses more by continuing implementing them than the party that is being sanctioned. In this hypothetical scenario, if North Korea agrees to supply Russia with military hardware it needs (which is currently far from granted), it would be rational for Russia to ignore sanctions that could be in place.

The word 'committed' is a somewhat funny one considering that other co-signatories of said sanctions are no longer committed to returning a significant amount of money to Russia which they already owe. In this situation it is hard to reason how any further coordination with these countries will not become voluntary (or "forced voluntary", how it is called in post-Soviet countries).

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    But that is not what I am asking. It may very well be rational for Russia to ignore its commitments. I am asking what those commitments are, however, not whether it's rational to ignore them. FWIW, on the linked question about what sanctions NK could expect? Probably not much worse than it has right now. Ditto Russia. But again, not what I am asking about. Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 23:14
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    Any commitments are relative as well. You can't expect to break your own commitments and expect the other party to observe theirs, especially if the law enforcement does not aid you while doing so.
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 23:15
  • To be clear. I have no right to "box you" into answering a question that you may feel is unfair in the first place. I would neither upvote, nor downvote, an answer based on something like "Russia's position is that it is no longer obligated to respect the sanctions on North Korea, given the unfair sanctions, not backed by the UN, imposed upon it." But that's very different from starting out a big answer based on cost/benefits of following said NK sanctions. Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 0:05
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    I believe that no country would in any case observe sanctions that hurt its economy more than the benefits from having the recieving party's economy contained. I don't think Russia, or any other country, was ever 'obligated' to respect any sanctions. Sanctions are a voluntary thing. They are good while they last, and then they aren't.
    – alamar
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 0:24
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    Russia (as well as China) are signatories of the current NK sanctions regime. If Russia walks away from these sanctions (which it 'voluntarily' signed), it means collapse of the whole regime of sanctions, with quite far-fetching consequences. China is not doing this for this reason, even though it doesn't see these sanctions as 'helpful' anymore for quite a few years. (China explicitly played this card of a 'reliable partner' that holds to the signed agreement despite the circumstances). Everyone knows that it's hopeless for UNSC to come to another 'replacement' agreement on NK.
    – Zeus
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 1:18

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