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US: North Korea in talks to supply Russia with weapons

Sergei Shoigu and Kim Jong Un (Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation/WikiCommons)
August 31, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korea is considering supplying Russia with arms for use in Ukraine, and talks are “actively advancing,” a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said on Wednesday.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu recently visited North Korea “to try to convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia,” John Kirby said on a call with reporters. Since then, he said, Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had “exchanged letters” pledging further cooperation.

“Information further indicates that following Shoigu’s visit, another group of Russian officials traveled to Pyongyang for follow-on discussions about potential arms deals,” Kirby said, adding that U.S. intelligence indicated more talks were planned on an arms deal.

“Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from [North Korea], which the Russian military plans to use in the Ukraine. Potential deals could also include the provision of raw materials that would assist Russia’s defense industrial base,” he said.

Food for arms

In March, Kirby suggested Pyongyang was seeking to trade arms for Russian food supplies amid food shortages in North Korea. 

But he said on Wednesday there was no evidence of that yet, and the United States was only certain the talks are focussed on artillery ammunition.

“These are secret negotiations that these two countries are having,” Kirby said, but “there’s no indications in the information that we have about these advancing negotiations that deal with food for fuel.”

Amid poor harvests in North Korea, many North Koreans are again struggling to survive and put enough food on the table, with violent crime spiraling as people become increasingly desperate, RFA has reported.

Kirby said the prospect of a deal between Russia with North Korea – and Putin’s reliance on negotiating with “rogue regimes” for weapons and other defense supplies – spoke to Russia’s weak position.

“He’s going to Iran, he’s going to North Korea to try to get artillery shells and the basic materials so that he can continue to shore up his defense industrial base,” he said. “There is no other way to look at that than [as] desperation and weakness, quite frankly.”

U.S. officials have for months warned about Russia’s alleged efforts to secure weapons from North Korea, which has backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as a response to a “hegemonic” United States. But both Russia and North Korea have denied there’s any deal.

On Aug. 15, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said any such deal would violate international sanctions.

An “arms deal between North Korea and Russia would certainly violate a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Patel said.