KCNA via REUTERS
- Russia’s defense chief traveled to North Korea recently to try and secure more ammunition.
- A top White House official said the visit underscored Vladimir Putin’s desperation in Ukraine.
- The US has long accused Russia of partnering with rogue states for military assistance.
Russia’s defense chief recently traveled to North Korea to ask the country for ammunition, a top White House official said this week, underscoring a scramble to sustain Moscow’s war efforts in Ukraine.
The Biden administration has long accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of turning to pariah countries like North Korea for weaponry and other security assistance throughout the 17-month-long Ukraine war, often suggesting that Moscow does so out of pure desperation.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and an accompanying delegation visited North Korea last week as the country marked 70 years since the 1953 Korean War armistice, which ended the fighting but not the actual war. There, Shoigu met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and attended a high-profile military parade.
“We remain concerned that the DPRK continues to contemplate providing military support to Russia’s military operations against Ukraine,” White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Thursday, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Shoigu went to Pyongyang “in a bid to convince North Korea to sell munitions to Russia to support Russia’s war,” Kirby added. “To that end, our information indicates that Russia is seeking to increase military cooperation with the DPRK, such as through DPRK sale of artillery munitions, again, to Russia.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Chinese Communist Party politburo member Li Hongzhong and Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2023, in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency.
KCNA via REUTERS
North Korea is one of just a few countries — many of them isolated on the world stage — to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine, but Pyongyang denies accusations that it provides weapons to the Russian military, even though North Korean rockets have been found in Ukraine. North Korean state media said that during their recent meeting, Shoigu and Kim discussed the regional and international security environments and that their meeting represented increased “collaboration and cooperation” on defense-related topics.
Russia has previously sought ammunition from North Korea, according to US intelligence. Earlier this year, the White House said that North Korea provided rockets and missiles to the Kremlin-funded Wagner Group mercenary organization, which until recently fought in Ukraine, and that Russia offered food to impoverished Pyongyang in exchange for weapons.
The US Treasury Department in March sanctioned a Slovakian national for attempting to broker arms deals between Russia and North Korea through a deal that would have seen Pyongyang sending weapons and munitions to Moscow, which was to send raw materials, commodities, and commercial aircraft in return.
Kirby said on Thursday that any arms deal between Russia and North Korea would be in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Pyongyang, North Korea, on July 27, 2023.
Photo by API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
“We are going to continue identify, expose, and counter Russia efforts to acquire ammunition from North Korea, or quite frankly any other state that might be prepared to support its war in Ukraine,” Kirby said.
“I think this is yet another example of how desperate Mr. Putin is becoming, because his war machine is being affected by the sanctions and the export controls, he is going through a vast amount of inventory to try to subjugate Ukraine, and he’s reaching out to countries like North Korea, like Iran, and certainly he’s been trying to reach out to China to get support for his war machine,” he added.
Iran has outfitted Russia’s military with explosive drones that Moscow has used for nearly a year to attack Ukrainian cities and the country’s civil infrastructure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday that Russia has launched nearly 2,000 Iranian-made “Shahed” drones, but Kyiv’s air-defense systems have managed to shoot down a “significant number” of the deadly weapons.
Meanwhile, Washington has expressed concerns that Beijing may provide weaponry to Russia, and there are some indications it is using a sanctions loophole to do so, though there’s apparently been no formal move to back Russia’s war effort. US officials have said they are watching the situation very closely.
“We feel its important to make it plain and to make it clear to everybody when we see that happening,” Kirby said on Thursday, referring to the US calling out Russia’s attempt to seize additional military capabilities.