Feb. 9 (UPI) — The Russian ambassador to North Korea said a complete ban on imports, including essential supplies, has been in effect since September, leaving foreign embassy staff exchanging items like clothing in their communities.
Ambassador Alexander Matsegora told Russian news service Interfax after the cutoff in the flow of people and goods that began in January life is “not easy” even for the relatively comfortable foreign diplomatic corps remaining in Pyongyang.
North Korea has remained an impoverished country after the leadership decided to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in nuclear facilities and ballistic weapons.
In a confidential United Nations report obtained by CNN on Tuesday, the North’s illicit weapons program could be being funded by its legions of hackers who stole as much as $316.4 million in virtual assets between 2019 and November 2020.
Matsegora, who has expressed support for the regime in Pyongyang on platforms like Facebook, told Interfax the coronavirus restrictions in North Korea affect the locals and privileged foreigners in equal measure.
The ambassador said even diplomats like himself are having trouble purchasing basic food products, including flour, cooking oil, and sugar.
“Even if you can afford to buy something, the price is three to four times higher than before the crisis,” the Russian ambassador said.
North Korean authorities also could be restricting foreigners’ movements to an extreme. Matsegora said diplomats and their families are not allowed to leave their embassy compounds.
With consumer goods largely unavailable, children of embassy staff members are exchanging clothes and getting by on hand-me-downs, according to the report.
The Russian diplomat also shared a candid assessment of North Korea’s pandemic response, saying local authorities have “openly admitted” local medical facilities are inadequate.
North Korea’s food situation could be worsening amid the pandemic, but the United Nations could be preparing to help.
Radio Free Asia’s Korean service reported the World Food Program confirmed a plan to resume food aid to the North, once the blockade is resolved.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in an assessment last year that about 60% of North Koreans are food insecure.