Joint NK-Russia pharmaceutical company revamps operations

Python, a joint company between North Korea
and Russia, which had manufactured health supplements during Kim Jong Il’s era,
has recently renewed its contract and is set to manufacture products using
materials produced in North Korea, Daily NK has learned.   

“Python closed down due to financial
difficulties but has recently renewed its contract with North Korea,” a
source in Russia told Daily NK. “On the 7th, the North Korean consul general
and the deputy prime minister of Zabaykalsky Krai signed related contracts to
operate the Python factory.”

An additional source in Russia confirmed this development.

The factory, located in Russia, is
currently shuttered due to financial restraints, but the North Korean state
authorities have been providing cadres dispatched to the facility for
management with living expenses. The source said the factory is expected to
give the Russian city Chita a boost in its local economy, helping to propel the

“Before production ground to a halt, Python
had been sending hefty sums of money to North Korea. Russia can also rake in
profits from the company, so neither wants to give up on the endeavor,” the
source speculated. “Once production begins, North Korea will select and
dispatch workers to Russia who will produce medicine and health supplements.”

He added, “We can’t tell exactly how much
was being made from the production, but former workers say under normal
operations, the sum going to the North was significant,” the source said,
noting that North Korea is surely hoping the deal can try to make in a dent in
the dearth of state foreign-currency funds.  

“In the past, Python mainly produced
health supplements, such as ‘baljam’ (herbal wine) and ginseng extract,” he
explained. “But after Russia was introduced to capitalism, financial, ideological, etc. difficulties emerged and operations took a toll. Over the past few years, only
a few North Korean managers have been left behind.”

He added that the North Korean laborers who
worked at Python were guaranteed housing and food in addition to receiving a
monthly salary of 50 to 60 USD, and given that the organization is a
pharmaceutical company, most of the Party cadres dispatched there are college
graduates; some researchers were sent with their families as well.

Meanwhile, earlier on the 14th, Radio Free Asia [RFA], citing Russian internet
publication ‘Business Buryatia,’ also reported that “North Korea and
Russia are planning to co-produce medical products in Chita, a city in Eastern
Siberia as early as before the end of this year.”

Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to