The US on Thursday blacklisted nine companies and government institutions — including two Russian firms — and three people for their support of North Korea’s weapons programs.
The announcement from the US Department of the Treasury came as diplomats said the US and China were likely to on Thursday propose that the UN Security Council blacklist more North Korean individuals and entities over the country’s repeated ballistic missile launches.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Ryabkov as saying Moscow was puzzled and alarmed by the US decision to sanction a Russian citizen and firms over alleged connections to North Korea.
He said Russia is preparing retaliatory measures, and the sanctions would not help efforts to restore relations between Moscow and Washington, RIA news agency reported.
The US has struggled to slow North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which has become a priority given Pyongyang’s vow to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
Washington has worked to step up both unilateral and international sanctions in an effort to cut off funds and supplies to the reclusive state.
The measures sanctioned Ardis-Bearings LLC, which it said is based in Moscow, and its director, Igor Aleksandrovich Michurin, for acting as a supplier to a North Korean trading company involved in the country’s missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.
Another Russian firm, Independent Petroleum Co (IPC), and a subsidiary were blacklisted for signing a contract to provide oil to North Korea and shipping more than US$1 million of petroleum products to North Korea, the department said.
IPC owner Eduard Khudainatov was chief executive of Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft, from 2010 to 2012 before Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed his close aide, Igor Sechin, to replace him.
Khudainatov then became a Rosneft vice president and subsequently left the company and took over the much smaller IPC, which produces about 40,000 barrels of oil per day, compared with more than 4 million barrels a day at Rosneft.
The department also sanctioned a major North Korean zinc company, Korea Zinc Industrial Group, and Korea Computer Center, which it said is a state-run information technology research center that generates foreign currency for the North Korean government through programming and software development.
The center is believed to have offices in Germany, China, Syria, India and the Middle East, the department said.
North Korean intelligence official Kim Su-Kwang was also sanctioned, as he had worked undercover at a UN organization in Europe, it said.
The steps freeze any funds the individuals or companies might have in the US, and bar Americans from dealing with them.
The US has been negotiating with China for five weeks on possible new UN sanctions and the UN Security Council could have voted on a draft resolution to add names to its targeted sanctions list as early as yesterday, diplomats said.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has been pressing Beijing to rein in North Korea, warning that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development.
Traditionally, the US has negotiated new sanctions with China — North Korea’s neighbor and only major ally — before involving the other 13 council members.
Russian support would be needed for the approval of a new resolution.
Any new names added to the UN blacklist would be subjected to a global asset freeze and travel ban.
The UN Security Council first imposed sanctions on Pyongyang in 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, and has ratcheted up the measures in response to five nuclear tests and two long-range missile launches.
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