U.S. intelligence says that in recent weeks, Russia and North Korea have intensified negotiations for arms as Russia’s supply of artillery shells becomes critically low.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang recently, and Biden administration National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says that during that visit, Shoigu called on the North Korean government to increase the sale of munitions to Moscow. It’s known that Russia is looking to both North Korea and Iran to augment their supply of ammunition as well as drones.
“We have new information which we’re able to share today that arms negotiations between Russia and the DPRK are actively advancing,” Kirby said. “DPRK” is North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Under these potential deals, Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from the DPRK which the Russian military plans to use in Ukraine.”
At the United Nations, the United States, along with South Korea, Japan, and the UK, urged North Korea to stop arms negotiations with Russia. In fact, it was Russia that insisted on UN resolutions to prohibit arms sales to the belligerents in the Russia-Ukraine war.
“This sends the wrong message to aspiring proliferators that if you sell Russia arms, Russia will even enable your pursuit of nuclear weapons,” according to the statement that was read by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
North Korea is essentially a third-world country and while they have an extensive domestic arms industry, the technological sophistication of those arms leaves much to be desired.
Ukraine has actually captured North Korean rockets from Russian stockpiles. The Ukrainians then put them to use against the Russians but noted they are wildly unpredictable.
Despite repeated assurances from Pyongyang that it would not sell weapons to Russia, the US remains concerned “that the DPRK continues to consider providing military support” to Moscow, Kirby said, adding that any arms deal between the two countries would violate several United Nations Security Council resolutions.
In March, the Treasury Department slapped sanctions on a Slovakian businessman for trying to broker arms deals between Moscow and Pyongyang. The potential profits in these deals are astronomical, meaning that just about any risk is worth taking.
“Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK,” U.S. 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.”
As for North Korea, Kim Jong-un sees a perfect opportunity to rattle the United States’ cage, making it appear that America is taking aggressive actions against his country.
The United States has “no legal right or moral justification to criticise normal cooperation between sovereign states in the defence field,” the North’s defence minister Kang Sun Nam said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
Pyongyang has sought to deepen relations with Russia and last month invited Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to events marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
“The United States is responsible for driving the Ukraine crisis to the brink of a global nuclear war by supplying F-16 fighter jets to the Zelensky puppet regime,” North Korea’s defense minister Kang Sun Nam said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
“We once again send full support and solidarity to the Russian people’s fight of justice waged to defend its sovereign rights and achieve international justice and will increase by hundredfold the military friendship with Russia,” he said.
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It’s unclear how much help North Korea can actually give Moscow. There are whispers from Russia that many of the arms supplied so far by North Korea are unreliable. But Putin doesn’t seem to care as much about the arms being supplied as the support in general he’s receiving from Kim.