In pre-fabricated buildings, down a muddy track on the outskirts of St. Petersburg lies a world of hidden North Korean labor in Russia.
On a construction site near their shabby living quarters, a group of laborers building apartment blocks told CNN they are from North Korea. Working in conditions the US State Department calls “slave-like” labor, they are among an estimated 50,000 workers in Russia from the isolated state.
US diplomats say up to 80% of their earnings are sent back to Pyongyang to help prop up the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The United Nations has expressed concern that this money — totalling $500 million a year from North Korea’s expatriate workers globally — helps to fund Kim’s missile and nuclear programs.
According to a UN Security Council resolution aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, countries are allowed to employ quotas of North Korean workers but not to authorize new work permits.
Under the most recent round of sanctions, Resolution 2397 states that all North Korean workers must be sent home by December 2019, cutting off a crucial source of income for Pyongyang. However, because it is unclear how many North Korean workers are currently in Russia, analysts say it is not clear whether all of them will go home.
The restriction placed on workers was part of a package of sanctions passed by the Security Council last December, which included limiting North Korea’s oil imports and expanding bans on exports to the country of industrial equipment, machinery and metals.
The tougher sanctions were implemented following another North Korean missile test. Launched on November 29, the Hwasong-15 reached the highest-ever altitude by a North Korean missile, putting the entire US mainland in range, state media said.