US: North Korea engaged in arms-for-food deal with Russia


By AP and published by Toronto Star

Washington – The White House on Thursday (Mar. 31) said it has new evidence that Russia is looking again to North Korea for weapons to fuel the war in Ukraine, this time in a deal that would provide Pyongyang with needed food and other commodities in return.

It’s the latest accusation that Russia, desperate for weaponry and restricted by sanctions and export controls, is turning to “rogue” nations to help it continue to prosecute the 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. “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.”

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 side-by-side with Russian troops in Ukraine.

Experts believe the food situation in North Korea is the worst it has been under Kim Jong Un’s 11-year rule, but they still say they see no signs of imminent famine or mass deaths. Kim 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.

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 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 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 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.

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 deliver 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.”


Top: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un stands in front of a long-range artillery sub-unit this month. It is not known if this is a weapon sought by Russia. Photo: BBC

Insert: National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House, on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky and published by Toronto Star

Front Page: In this photo provided on Tuesday, March 28, 2023, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a hall displaying what appeared to be various types of warheads designed to be mounted on missiles or rocket launchers, at undisclosed location. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Photo: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP and published by The Press Democrat

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TNR staff

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