The communiques out of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations were exultant on Monday. They lauded the unanimous passage in the Security Council of the “strongest sanctions ever imposed” on North Korea for its nuclear weapons program. Among other prohibitions, North Korea has now been prevented from exporting textiles—one of its few industries. It will also have a harder time importing oil and fuel, won’t be able to send its workers abroad to earn cash as easily, and will be forced to shutter any joint ventures. But as The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick reported, the sanctions were heavily watered down thanks to objections from China and Russia.
Rightfully, there has been much condemnation of the China-based companies that do business with North Korea and Chinese-North Korean entities that continue to operate. These entities make up the largest source of hard cash and material reinforcements for Kim Jong Un’s hermit kingdom, but Russia’s support of North Korea is also quite significant, and has grown alongside international condemnation of that regime’s belligerence.
Moscow’s assistance to Pyongyang has emerged not out of a desire to promote its nuclear program, but because Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, sees Kim very much like he see his own country: victims of a U.S.-led international system that tramples on their choices and sovereignty. Russia is itself under international sanctions intended to punish Moscow for its military actions in Ukraine. For Russia, sanctions that successfully force North Korea either to alter its military choices or lead to a change in its leadership would set a dangerous precedent—the possibility of regime change anywhere is never to be encouraged.