North Korea is supplying arms to a Russian mercenary group and could continue to deliver military equipment to support the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, the Biden administration said Thursday.
The White House said the weapons “will not change battlefield dynamics,” however, the private entity receiving the equipment, Wagner Group, is committing atrocities and human rights abuses across Ukraine.
“Because the Russian military is struggling in Ukraine, President [Vladimir] Putin has increasingly been turning to Wagner, which is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, for military support,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday. Kirby said Prigozhin has been spending more than $100 million per month to fund Wagner’s efforts inside Ukraine.
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Kirby said the US estimates that Wagner currently has 50,000 personnel deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts they have recruited.
“In part because of our sanctions and export controls, Wagner is searching around the world for arms suppliers to support his military operations in Ukraine,” Kirby said.
“Today, we can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment,” Kirby continued. “Last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner.”
“We assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner will not change battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, but we are certainly concerned that North Korea is planning to deliver more military equipment,” he said.
Kirby said Wagner, like the Russian government, has been “forced to rely on pariah states to enable its campaign” in Ukraine, referring to its coordination with North Korea.
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“North Korean officials have said publicly that they would not support Russia’s war in Ukraine – and yet here they are delivering arms to Wagner in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Kirby said.
Kirby said the Biden administration will raise the violations with the Security Council, with support from allies and partners.
“Of course we condemn North Korea’s actions, and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately,” Kirby said while stressing that the United States will “continue to help Ukraine defend itself against both Russian and Wagner forces.”
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Kirby said the Biden administration is taking further action against Wagner as the Department of Commerce has designated the private army as a “military end user.” That means the US is working to ensure Wagner “cannot access any equipment, anywhere in the world, based on US technology or production equipment.”
“In the coming weeks, as well, we are going to announce further sanctions actions against Wagner and its support networks in countries around the world,” Kirby said. “And President Biden has been very clear: We will continue to stand with Ukraine, for as long as it takes, in support of its sovereignty and independence.”