(Updates with Putin’s comments, adds detail)
By Denis Pinchuk
XIAMEN, China, Sept 5 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russian oil supplies to North Korea were negligible, responding to heightened international scrutiny of the ties between Moscow and the leadership in Pyongyang.
“We have supplies of 40,000 tonnes of oil and oil products to North Korea a quarter,” Putin said during a briefing after a BRICs summit in China.
“I asked (Russian Energy Minister Alexander) Novak; 40,000 a quarter is zero,” said Putin. “Not a single (Russian) energy major carries out supplies there.”
Western capitals have been paying closer attention to Russian economic ties with North Korea since a series of missile and nuclear tests carried out by Pyongyang prompted warnings that a military conflict could break out on the Korean peninsula.
Russia says it is strictly implementing United Nations sanctions on North Korea, but in its public pronouncements it has taken a more doveish approach than most Western countries.
It has said it makes no sense to impose additional sanctions that would starve the North Korean economy into submission.
Bilateral trade between the two countries has been decreasing for the last four years, from $112.7 million in 2013 to $76.9 million in 2016, according to Russian Federal Customs Service statistics.
But it more than doubled to $31.4 million in the first quarter of 2017 in year-on-year terms. Most of Russia’s exports to North Korea are oil, coal and refined products.
Russian authorities have explained the boost in trade by a rise of exports to North Korea, primarily oil products. Moscow has said the oil exports have not violated international sanctions.
According to latest available data from the U.N., Russia exported approximately 36,000 tonnes of oil products in 2015 to North Korea, compared to China’s yearly export of 500,000 tonnes of crude and 270,000 tonnes of oil products.
Earlier on Tuesday, Novak, the energy minister, said Russian oil product supplies to North Korea were “negligible”. Novak also said that Moscow has not discussed the possibility of curbs on energy supplies to Pyongyang with its international partners. (Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Christian Lowe)