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New EU sanctions to target North Korean arms to Russia

  • North Korean president Kim Jong Un (l) with Russian president Vladimir Putin (r) in Pyongyang in September 2023 (Photo: kremlin.ru)
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The EU is to hit Russian shipping firms that import North Korean weapons as part of its 13th blacklist on the Ukraine war.

Azia Shipping Company, Marine Trans Shipping, MG-Flot, M Leasing, and Sovfracht were among the 118 new entities and individuals to be added, according to a draft seen by EUobserver on Thursday (8 February).

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The firms were "involved in a military transportation network of Russian cargo vessels shipping North Korean armaments from Pyongyang to military facilities in the Russian port of Dunai," the EU draft list said.

"Subsequently, North Korean munitions [are] transported ... to depots on Russia's western border to be deployed in Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine," it added.

The companies' CEOs were personally being put under an EU visa-ban and asset-freeze.

The boss of the Oboronlogistics firm was also to be added over North Korea, but the firm itself was not — in what may have been an oversight.

The flow of materiel from North Korea to Russia comes amid an artillery battle in south-east Ukraine of a scale not seen in Europe since World War I, which is consuming tens of thousands of shells a day.

The EU is aiming to deliver 1.1 million shells to Ukraine this year at the same time as trying to curb North Korea's input on the other side.

The rest of the 63 individuals on the new blacklist were all general managers of Russian arms firms or minor Russian officials, but three officials were cited as being part of Russia's child-abduction programme in Ukraine.

These included Alla Barkhatnova, Valentina Lavrik, and Grigory Gurov.

Barkhatnova was a "labour minister" in Kherson, a Russia-occupied region in Ukraine, who was "involved with the illegal deportation and re-education of Ukrainian children, including their deportation into Russia".

Lavrik was an "education minister" in Russia-occupied Crimea who was "responsible for coordinating and overseeing the transfer of children from the illegally occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhzhia into camps, based in Crimea".

"Some of the children who went there with their parents' consent, were not allowed to return to Ukraine due to their pro-Ukrainian views," the EU said.

Gurov ran Movement of the First in Russia, a state group which "is re-educating Ukrainian children, including those deported to Russia illegally".

It is also brainwashing Russian children.

"The children who are members of the movement have meetings with soldiers who have fought in Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, send cards and letters of support, and also prepare equipment to be used on the battlefield, and learn how to handle drones," the EU said.

Citation of Russian officials on Ukrainian child-abuse helps build the case against Russian president Vladimir Putin at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

The ICC issued warrants for Putin's arrest on child-abduction grounds in March last year, making him wary of travelling, in case one of his foreign hosts enacted the ICC arrest-order.

All of the other 55 entities being added to the EU register were Russian arms firms, except for Movement of the First — the Russian child-soldier academy.

One of the companies, the Moscow-based PSV Technologies, specialised in "the acquisition of sanctioned dual-use and military goods from the European Union on behalf of Russian state-owned weapons manufacturers," the EU said.

Another one, MFI Soft, made dystopian surveillance software.

It was working with Russia's domestic intelligence service, the FSB, on what they called a System for Operational-search Measures (SORM).

And SORM "enables Russia's domestic and foreign intelligence collection, monitoring and suppression of dissent, and has been installed on infrastructure in occupied parts of Ukraine to further aid Russia's attempts to integrate Ukraine's territory into Russia," the EU draft said.

EU ambassadors will discuss the proposal in Brussels on Thursday.

It also suggested adding a handful of non-Russian firms accused of EU-sanctions circumvention to a grey-list, which stops them buying European dual-use technology.

The 13th-round proposal was less ambitious than any of the previous 12 rounds, which hit Russian VIPs, banks, gas, oil, and diamond sectors, for instance.

This was because it's designed to be adopted in time for the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, EU diplomats said.

The 12th round was in late December. The 14th would "be more comprehensive", an EU diplomat said.

The 13th package would bring to 2,068 the number of Russian individuals and entities under EU sanctions.

The EU has also frozen over €320bn of Russian assets and banned €135bn in trade in a bid to weaken Putin's war effort.

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