Russia has likely helped North Korea unblock frozen funds and otherwise worked to connect the country with international financial institutions it has long been shut out of, The New York Times (NYT) reported on Feb. 6, citing unnamed sources in Western intelligence.
Moscow and Pyongyang have significantly increased their military ties since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
A spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence previously said on Jan. 15. that North Korea has supplied Russia with around one million rounds of ammunition, mainly 122 mm and 152 mm artillery shells.
A British security think tank told the NYT that the number could be significantly higher, perhaps as many as 2.5 million rounds.
There has been much speculation about what North Korea may have received in exchange, with some Western military officials surmising that Russia had provided North Korea with advanced military technology, possibly including nuclear capabilities.
Sources told the NYT that Russia had helped unblock $9 million in North Korean funds frozen at a Russian bank.
Beyond helping access the preexisting funds, the intelligence sources said that a North Korean front company had recently opened a bank account in South Ossetia, a territory of Georgia illegally occupied by Russia, prompting concern that it was a way to help North Korea circumvent restrictions banning it from accessing most Western financial institutions.
U.S. officials could not confirm to the NYT that North Korea had opened the account or received the unblocked funds, but said they would not be surprised.
While $9 million is still a rather small sum, access to the bank account, if true, would be an important asset to North Korea.
The West has imposed sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and other weapons tests, making it difficult for the country to engage in international trade or access financing.
Russia is facing significant Western sanctions on its own, including its financial institutions, but there are a number of key trading partners, such as Turkey and South Africa, who North Korea would be able to potentially do business with via a Russian banking account.
Experts told the NYT that Russia may be wary of exposing itself to further financial sanctions and decided that helping North Korea bypass banking restrictions could be more "palatable" than providing nuclear or advanced military technology.
In some sense, experts said North Korea has already significantly benefitted from the newfound partnership by making itself the center of diplomatic conversations, even if the overall sentiment is largely one of concern.