Russia is seeking to replenish munitions used in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine by purchasing them from North Korea, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby claimed in comments to reporters on Thursday.
The accusation follows a high-profile visit to North Korea by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu last week, who became the first high-ranking foreign official to visit the country since former American President Donald Trump in 2019. Pyongyang’s communist dictatorship invited both Shoigu’s delegation and a group of high-ranking Chinese officials to the capital for a massive parade last Thursday marking the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement.
The armistice, signed in 1953, ended active hostilities but did not result in any surrender or peace treaty, meaning the war between the two Koreas – and allies America and China – is still active. Despite this, North Korea marks the armistice anniversary as “Victory Day” and claims to have defeated South Korea.
During Shoigu’s visit, communist dictator Kim Jong-un gave Shoigu a personal tour of a weapons exhibition in the capital, featuring a variety of military technology including North Korea’s latest model intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-18, which debuted in July. North Korea’s ICBM program, as well as its nuclear weapons development, is banned by international law, but Russia and China use their veto power at the U.N. Security Council to minimize the circumstances Pyongyang has faced over the years for its violations.
In remarks during a telephone briefing on Thursday, Kirby suggested that the weapons exhibition tour may have served as a potential shopping trip.
“Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu recently traveled to North Korea in a bid to convince North Korea to sell munitions to Russia to support Russia’s war,” Kirby said, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap. “Our information indicates that Russia is seeking to increase military cooperation to the DPRK [North Korea] such as through DPRK sale of artillery munitions, again to Russia.”
“Any arms deal between North Korea and Russia would, of course, directly violate a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he continued, “And we are going to continue to identify, expose and counter Russian efforts to acquire ammunition from North Korea or quite frankly any other state that might be prepared to support its war in Ukraine.”
North Korea has been one of Russia’s most enthusiastic supporters in the Ukraine invasion since it became a full-scale assault in February 2022; Russia first invaded and colonized part of Ukraine in 2014, eliciting mild disfavor from the West. the Kim regime was one of the few to recognize the “sovereignty” of two eastern Ukrainian regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, that claimed to secede from Kyiv last year and has since recognized Russia’s “annexation” of the territories.
The administration of President Joe Biden has been warning for nearly a year that Pyongyang may be a more active participant in the Ukraine invasion than publicly known. In January, Kirby claimed that North Korea was selling “infantry rockets and missiles” to the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), which was still fighting in Ukraine at the time.
“We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions, and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately,” Kirby demanded at the time.
Wagner has since vacated Ukraine following its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, accused Shoigu’s ministry of killing his soldiers and attempted to march them into Moscow in June. Prigozhin’s “march for justice” ended within 24 hours with Prigozhin reportedly being exiled with his soldiers to Belarus and departing the Ukrainian battlefield.
Kirby similarly accused North Korea of selling Russia a “significant” amount of weaponry in November.
“Our indications are that the DPRK is covertly supplying and we are going to monitor to see whether the shipments are received,” Kirby said.
An alleged declassified American intelligence report surfacing in September also accused North Korea of selling shells and rockets to Russia for use in Ukraine.
American officials had previously accused a third party, Slovakian arms dealer Ashot Mkrtychev, of bringing Pyongyang and Moscow to the negotiating table for weapons deals. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Mkrtychev in March for his alleged role in the sales.
“Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at the time. “We remain committed to degrading Russia’s military-industrial capabilities, as well as exposing and countering Russian attempts to evade sanctions and obtain military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine.”
Complicating reports of the alleged cooperation between Russia and North Korea is a report published last week by the Financial Times claiming that Ukrainian soldiers are also using North Korean ammunition against Russia. The magazine claimed to have found a group of Ukrainian fighters willing to show it some Soviet-era missiles they claimed originated in the communist country; independent reports have not at press time confirmed if the weapons were indeed manufactured in North Korea.
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