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Why Russia Is Protecting North Korea From Nuclear Monitors

Through the most tense encounters with President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia over the past decade, there has been one project in which Washington and Moscow have claimed common cause: keeping North Korea from expanding its arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Now, even that has fallen apart.

On Thursday, Russia used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to kill off a U.N. panel of experts that has been monitoring North Korea’s efforts to evade sanctions over its nuclear program for the past 15 years.

Russia’s discomfort with the group is a new development. Moscow once welcomed the panel’s detailed reports about sanctions violations and considered Pyongyang’s nuclear program to be a threat to global security.

But more recently, the panel has provided vivid evidence of how Russia is keeping the North brimming with fuel and other goods, presumably in return for the artillery shells and missiles that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is shipping to Russia for use against Ukraine. The group has produced satellite images of ship-to-ship transfers of oil, showing how the war in Ukraine has proved to be a bonanza for the North.

The apparent dismantlement of the panel, which had no enforcement power, is one more piece of evidence of how what was once a global effort to constrain nuclear proliferation has eroded rapidly over the past two years.

“It’s a remarkable shift,” said Robert Einhorn, a State Department official during the Obama administration who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.