Russia seeking arms from N Korea for Ukraine war: W House

Friday, Mar 31, 2023

WASHINGTON: The White House said on Thursday that Russia continues to seek arms from North Korea for the Ukraine war, after Pyongyang already shipped artillery munitions to the Wagner Group fighting on the front lines.

“We have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said, after the US Treasury blacklisted a Slovakian man acting as a broker in such deals.

Kirby’s comments came after the United States imposed sanctions on a Slovakian man for trying to arrange the sale of more than two dozen types of North Korean weapons and munitions to Russia to help Moscow replace military equipment lost in its war with Ukraine.

“We also understand that Russia is seeking to send a delegation in North Korea and that Russia is offering North Korea food in exchange for munitions,” Kirby said. Any arms deal between North Korea and Russia would violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions, he said.

Kirby also noted North Korea’s recent statements that they will not provide or sell arms to Russia. “We are continuing to monitor this closely,” he added. Kirby said Mkrtychev is at the centre of the new North Korea-Russia deal, which has yet to be consummated.

He added that the US does not have evidence that Mkrtychev was involved in the earlier transfer of weapons to Russia’s Wagner Group, whose mercenaries have been in the centre of a monthslong battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Between the end of 2022 and early 2023, Treasury said Mkrtychev worked with North Korean officials to obtain over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions for Russia in exchange for commercial aircraft, raw materials and commodities to be sent to North Korea.

Mkrtychev worked with a Russian citizen to find commercial aircraft to delivers goods to North Korea in the exchange. “Russia has lost over 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since the start of the war, and thanks in part to multilateral sanctions and export controls, Putin has become increasingly desperate to replace them,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that US intelligence suggested China was considering providing arms and ammunition to Russia, though White House officials have said they have yet to see evidence of Beijing following through with weapons delivery.

The publicizing of Russia’s efforts to get weapons from North Korea is just the latest example of the Biden administration loosening restrictions on intelligence findings and making them public over the course of the grinding war in Ukraine.

The administration has said it has sought to disseminate the intelligence findings so allies and the public remain clear-eyed about Moscow’s intent and Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks twice about his actions.

Earlier on Thursday, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against a Slovakian national, Ashot Mkrtychev, alleging he attempted to facilitate arms deals between Russia and North Korea.