Andrew Kelly/Reuters/File
The United Nations Security Council
United Nations CNN  — 

Russia on Thursday vetoed a United Nations resolution that would renew an independent panel of experts investigating North Korea’s violations of Security Council sanctions, at a time when Pyongyang has become a key supplier of munitions for Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

In recent years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has overseen a massive buildup in Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program, with dozens of tests in a year, including long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that could in theory reach the United States mainland.

International sanctions and UN investigations into North Korea’s illegal weapons program have previously been backed by Russia. But relations between Moscow and the West are at a historic low over the war unleashed on Ukraine. Facing increased international ostracism – and acute ammunition shortages – Russian President Vladimir Putin has grown more reliant on North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un.

North Korea has also gained a powerful backer at the UN which wields veto power.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council the UN-imposed sanctions regime on Pyongyang, aimed at stopping North Korea from conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles, is “losing its relevance” and is “detached from reality,” according to a UN press release.

02:22 - Source: CNN
A timeline of North Korea's recent missile tests

Since UN Resolution 1718 was passed in 2006 establishing the seven-member panel, sanctions on North Korea have not achieved their aims or contributed to an improved situation on the Korean Peninsula, Russia contended.

Nebenzia said Thursday a coalition of countries led by the US wanted to strangle Pyongyang, a situation that affects Russia’s national security.

While UN sanctions prohibit arms transfers to or from North Korea, the Kim regime has become a big supplier of weapons to Putin’s war effort in Ukraine.

South Korea’s defense minister said in February that North Korea munitions factories are operating at full capacity to produce armaments to send to Russia, including millions of rounds of artillery shells.

Ukraine has also said it has found debris from North Korean-made ballistic missiles after attacks on targets in the country.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council on Thursday was 13 in favor, Russia opposed and China abstaining. But as Russia holds veto power, the resolution to continue the panel of experts’ work failed.

Britain’s Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward called the Russian veto “deeply concerning.”

“This veto does not demonstrate concern for the North Korean people or the efficacy of sanctions,” Woodward told the Security Council. Adding that “it is about Russia gaining the freedom to evade and breach sanctions in pursuit of weapons to be used against Ukraine.”

“This veto undermines the panel’s work; the integrity of the international nuclear non-proliferation regime; and this Council’s credibility in upholding UN Security Council resolutions,” Woodward said, adding that the panel of experts has “played a vital role in constraining” North Korea over the past decade.

US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood asked how a civilized nation could block the approval.

“You silenced the panel of experts today, but you will never silence those in favor of a nonproliferation regime,” Wood said to Russia.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also called Russia’s decision “irresponsible.”