North Korea-Russia arms deal inches closer

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday warned Pyongyang to not provide military support to Russia for its war in Ukraine, saying it would “directly violate a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” 


The U.S. has imposed sanctions on individuals and entities it says have facilitated weapons transfers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the formal name for North Korea, to the Wagner Group, the mercenary army that has been fighting for Russia.


The White House said that it has not yet observed North Korea directly supplying Russia’s armed forces.


“On numerous occasions, the DPRK has said publicly that they will not sell to Russia, but we remain concerned that the DPRK continues to consider providing military support to Russia’s military forces in Ukraine,” Kirby said in a briefing with reporters.


Russia is looking to source artillery ammunition and raw materials for its own weapons-building capabilities in an effort to subvert U.S. and international sanctions aimed at starving its military industry. 


“We’re continuing to monitor this situation closely and we urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia,” Kirby said. 


Kirby said he could not get into the details of how the U.S. was gathering this intelligence but noted that the “secret” arms negotiations build on recent public shows of support between Russia and North Korea.


This includes an exchange of letters between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in April where the two pledged to deepen the bilateral cooperation between the two countries.


In July, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Pyongyang for North Korea’s celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the armistice agreement with South Korea. 


Kirby said Shoigu’s visit helped lay the groundwork for a follow-up trip by Russian officials to Pyongyang to discuss potential arms deals, and that “high level discussions may continue in coming months.”


Kirby said Russia is seeking multiple types of munitions but is focused on increasing artillery supplies for use in Ukraine as the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion and occupation of the country enters its 19th month. 


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