Russia seeking weapons from North Korea to bolster Ukraine war, says US | Russia

The White House says it has new evidence that Russia is looking again to North Korea for weapons and munitions to fuel the war in Ukraine, this time in a deal that would provide Pyongyang with much-needed food and other commodities in return.

It is the latest accusation that Russia, desperate for weaponry and restricted by sanctions and export controls, is turning to “rogue” nations to help it continue its 13-month-old war.

“As part of this proposed deal, Russia would receive over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions from Pyongyang,” White House national security council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday. “We also understand that Russia is seeking to send a delegation to North Korea and that Russia is offering North Korea food in exchange for munitions.”

Experts believe the food situation in North Korea is the worst it has been under Kim Jong-un’s 11-year rule, but see no signs of imminent famine or mass deaths. Kim has vowed to strengthen state control over agriculture and take a spate of other steps to increase grain production, North Korean state media reported earlier this month.

The US 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.

Last year, reports emerged that Russia’s ambassador in Pyongyang suggested North Korea could send workers to two Russian-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine to help rebuild the war-shattered infrastructure there.

Alexander Matsegora said there were potentially “a lot of opportunities” for economic cooperation between the North and the self-proclaimed people’s republics in Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s Donbas region, despite United Nations sanctions.

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.

Kirby said Mkrtychev is at the center 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 months-long 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. “Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].”

Any arms deal with Russia would be a violation of UN resolutions that ban North Korea from exporting to or importing weapons from other countries.

North Korea is the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognise the independence of Russian-controlled territories, Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine.

The publicising 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 war in Ukraine.

The administration has previously declassified intelligence to present evidence that Iran sold hundreds of attack drones to Russia over the summer and that the Wagner Group, a private Russian military company, has taken delivery of arms from North Korea to help bolster its forces as they fight alongside Russian troops 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 so Russian president Vladimir Putin thinks twice about his actions.

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