Mixed messages are being sent by the Russian government on the North Korea issue in support of and in opposition to U.S. and U.N. sanctions against the rogue nation.

On the one hand, Russia this Tuesday said the Kremlin is ready to take a lead in putting pressure on North Korea leadership. On the other, reports have surfaced that Russia is still supplying “massive amounts” of fuel to the Ryanggang Province in North Korea.

The province borders China, but Lisa Collins, an expert on the Koreas at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says:

“There are a lot of trade channels that exist between China and North Korea, some licit and some illicit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Russia were taking advantage of those.”

Russia is legally allowed to supply a certain amount of oil to North Korea. According to James Brown, an expert on Russia and Japan at Temple University:

“It is no secret that Russia supplies North Korea with oil. In fact, Russia is perfectly entitled to do so. This is because Russia ensured that no cuts to crude oil supplies were mandated in the sanctions adopted on 11 September.”

One clue to what’s really happening is that fuel prices in North Korea have been falling since November, after skyrocketing post the sanctions, says a report from citizen journalists from inside North Korea to Osaka-based Asia Press International.

Though those reports need to be taken with a pinch of salt, Russia’s legal loophole combined with the presence of illicit trade channels as acknowledged by experts could mean that North Korea’s oil supplies aren’t as choked off as the international community assumes.

But the media report about Kremlin wanting to take the lead on putting pressure on Pyongyang now comes from a conflicting direction to what the Russian government has allegedly been doing on the oil export front with North Korea.

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