UK Sanctions Russia and North Korea for “Arms for Oil” Scheme

North Korean tanker
Another North Korean tanker cited in the past by the Japanese for illegal oil transfers (Japanese Ministry of Defense)

Published May 17, 2024 8:38 PM by The Maritime Executive


The UK’s Foreign Office announced on Friday a new package of sanctions targeting both Russian and North Korean interests which they assert have been working on an “arms-for-oil” trade. The UK alleges that the two countries have been working in a joint malign effort to circumvent sanctions on petroleum products.

“We cannot – and we will not – stay silent as the DPRK and Russia engage in arms transfers,” said UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron. “Putin is straining every sinew to sustain his illegal war in Ukraine, even resorting to illicit ‘arms-for-oil’ trade deals with the DPRK, blatantly violating UN sanctions that Russia itself voted for, and vetoing UN Monitoring panels that report on their activity.”

The UK along with foreign partners including the United States took the actions in response to Russia’s veto at the UN for a North Korean monitoring program. Known as the 1718 Committee Panel of Experts it was established by the UN Security Council in 2006. The mandate for the program which was charged with monitoring the implementation of UN sanctions and helping to prevent North Korea’s development of nuclear and ballistic missile programs expired on April 30, 2024. Russia vetoed the move at the UN to renew the efforts’ mandate.

Specifically, the UK imposed an asset freeze against the North Korean shipping company, Paekyangsan Shipping, which they report operates a North Korean-flagged oil product tanker, the Paek Yang San 1 (4,989 dwt). They report the vessel has been transferring petroleum products between Russia and North Korea as part of the arms scheme. The tanker has been mentioned frequently in tracking reports and had previous citations by the UN and others for being involved in illegal trades.

The UK also listed two Russian entities, the Toplivo Bunkering Company which was facilitating the loading of the tanker, and the Vostochnaya Stevedoring Company which operates the Vostochny port. They also listed Aleksey Mikhailovich Vorotnikow as the director of the Toplivo Bunkering Company. They froze the assets and imposed travel bans and transport sanctions prohibiting entry into the UK.

The U.S. Treasury took similar actions related to the scheme on Thursday although they targeted two different Russian individuals and three Russia-based entities for facilitating weapons transfers between Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The U.S. has been targeting this scheme for more than a year, imposing its first sanctions citing the arms deals between Russia and North Korea in March 2023. 

The U.S. cited examples of several deals in 2023 involving mortars and mortar shells and shipments to Russia of communications equipment. They also cited efforts to facilitate the shipment and delivery of aviation components to a North Korean weapons dealer.