SEOUL (Reuters) – Satellite images show goods from Russia appear to be piling up in a North Korean railyard, about a month after trains were reported crossing the border for the first time since the pandemic began, a U.S.-based think-tank said on Monday.
38 North, which monitors North Korea, said imagery of the Tumangang station from late November and early December shows the resumption of trade between Russia and North Korea is well underway.
“The expanded freight handling area at Tumangang also indicates that North Korea anticipates an increased volume of goods compared to pre-COVID years and could become a more important partner in the future,” the report said.
In early November the two countries restarted train travel for the first time since 2020 with an unusual cargo – 30 grey thoroughbred horses. Russian media said at that the time that medicines would follow in later cargos.
A few days later 38 North reported seeing a train cross the border, noting that it came amid reports of arms sales from North Korea to Russia and a general expectation of the resumption of trade between the two countries.
The 800-metre (yard) Tumangang Friendship Bridge (Korea-Russia Friendship Bridge) is the only land link between the countries.
Under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, North Korea has come to be nearly entirely dependent on its neighbours, though China is by far its biggest economic partner.
North Korea imposed one of the world’s strictest border lockdowns under the pandemic, only recently allowing a trickle of trade by land.
The secure railyard in Tumangang was built in 2021, around the same time that North Korea was converting the Uiju Airfield on the opposite side of the country into a massive quarantine station for goods from China.
“Such a large quarantine area has not been set up in Tumangang, which suggests that the Russian border crossing is unlikely to receive as much cargo as the Chinese rail brings in, but it is another sign of North Korea’s slow opening up to the world as the COVID pandemic lessens,” the report said.