Russia and China block U.S. additions to U.N. sanctions


Russia and China on Thursday blocked a U.S. request to add a Russian bank to a U.N. sanctions blacklist along with a North Korean official and two entities, diplomats said.

The United States last week asked a U.N. sanctions committee to slap an assets freeze on Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank for allegedly helping North Korea evade U.N.-imposed restrictions on financial transactions.

The request also targeted Ri Jong Won, the deputy representative of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank and two North Korean front companies.

In a response to the council, Russia raised doubts about the allegations while China told the council that it objected to the proposed sanctions designations put forward by the United States.

“We would like to underline that designation requests submitted to the committee should be adequately substantiated by sufficient information,” said the Russian mission to the United Nations in a message to the council.

The request followed a U.S. Treasury Department decision to impose unilateral sanctions on the Russian bank, the North Korean official and the two entities.

The two companies were named as the Dandong Zhongsheng Industry & Trade Company and the Korea Ungum Corp.

Russia and China have called on the Security Council to consider easing sanctions to reward North Korea for opening up dialogue with the United States and halting missile tests.

But the United States has called for maintaining “maximum pressure” from sanctions until North Korea has fully dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Earlier Thursday, the North Korean foreign ministry issued an angry statement, denouncing the United States for responding to its overtures by “inciting international sanctions and pressure.”

The council last year adopted three rafts of sanctions targeting North Korea’s economy through export and import bans, as well as restrictions on banking.

It was the second time in three weeks that Russia and China have objected to a U.S. request to tighten sanctions on North Korea.

On July 19, the two countries put a six-month hold on a U.S. request to halt all deliveries of refined oil products to North Korea.

The United States had made the request to the sanctions committee after finding that North Korea had exceeded the cap on fuel imports though illegal ship-to-ship transfers at sea.

U.N. sanctions resolutions place a ceiling for North Korea of 500,000 barrels of refined oil products per year and 4 million barrels of crude.

A cut-off of oil and fuel would have to be enforced primarily by China, which supplies most of North Korea’s energy needs, but also by Russia, which delivers some oil to Pyongyang.

Also Thursday, the Kremlin vowed to retaliate against “unacceptable” new U.S. sanctions against Russia over its alleged role in a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain, which prompted the ruble and Russian stocks to tumble.

The State Department said Wednesday the new sanctions were in response to “the use of a ‘Novichok’ nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate U.K. citizen Sergei Skripal” — a former Russian double agent — and his daughter, Yulia, on English soil in March.

They were aimed at punishing Putin’s government for having “used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

But the punitive measures triggered a furious reaction from Moscow.

Russia will “work on developing retaliatory measures,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists.

“Whatever the sanctions against Russia are, the retaliatory measures will be the same,” she said.

“If they dream up some (measures), we will answer — it’s not our choice.”