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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

North denies sending arms to Russia for Ukraine war

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a summit in Vladivostok, Russia in April 2019. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a summit in Vladivostok, Russia in April 2019. [YONHAP]

North Korea’s Defense Ministry denied Washington’s claim that it exported arms to Russia to support the war in Ukraine.

“We once again make clear that we have never had ‘arms dealings’ with Russia and that we have no plan to do so in the future,” said the vice director of military foreign affairs at the Ministry of National Defense in a statement released through the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) Tuesday.

The English-language statement claimed that the United States was “persistently spreading a groundless ‘rumor of arms dealings’” between North Korea and Russia “in a bid to make it a fait accompli at any cost.”

It called the move “part of its hostile attempt to tarnish the image of the DPRK in the international arena” by “invoking” UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against the North.

The DPRK is the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Russian Embassy in North Korea also denied the allegation that Pyongyang was secretly supplying ammunition to Moscow in a statement Tuesday, calling it “not true” at all.

Last week, a U.S. National Security Council spokesman accused North Korea of secretly supplying Russia with artillery for the war in Ukraine.

“Our information indicates that the DPRK is covertly supplying Russia’s war in Ukraine with a significant number of artillery shells, while obfuscating the real destination of the arms shipments by trying to make it appear as though they’re being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa,” said John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the White House National Security Council, last Wednesday.

Ned Price, spokesman of the U.S. State Department, said in a press conference last Wednesday that Washington will use “every tool” to enforce existing sanctions against Pyongyang “when it comes to the DPRK’s provisions of weapons to Russia.”

Price likewise said that U.S. intelligence indicates that North Korea “is covertly supplying Russia’s war in Ukraine with a significant number of artillery shells” despite its “public denials.”

He said that in addition to existing sanctions, it will also “look at additional tools and authorities that we may be able to call upon to counter this activity.”

This includes calling on “all responsible countries,” including the permanent members of the UN Security Council, to fully take part in sanctions resolutions.

“We’ll continue to look at ways to hold the DPRK accountable, not only for its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile program but for any continued provision of weapons to Russia as well,” Price added.

This is not the first time accusations of North Korean arms dealings with Moscow have been raised by Washington.

In September, the United States said Russia was trying to purchase artillery shells and rockets from North Korea.

In a statement in September, Pyongyang’s military also said that it had never supplied “weapons or ammunition” to Russia.  

Analysts say Pyongyang may try to strengthen its ties to Moscow, its traditional ally, in response to Washington’s efforts to intensify pressure on it through the UN Security Council.

North Korean factories are producing uniforms for Russian soldiers in violation of UN sanctions, sources inside North Korea told Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tuesday.

At least three factories in Pyongyang, and more in other parts of the country, are making winter uniforms, underwear and footwear for Russian soldiers in Ukraine using Russian fabric, according the RFA report, bringing in foreign currency to the North.

This is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2375, adopted in September 2017, which bans all textile exports from North Korea.

The uniforms produced in the Pyongyang factories are sent to Russia via the cross-border Tumen River-Khasan freight train, in northeastern North Korea, according to the report.

Cross-border railway trade between North Korea and Russia were resumed after being suspended for some two years and eight months during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Russian news agencies last week.

Russian news agencies including RIA Novosti and Interfax reported last Wednesday that a freight train carrying 30 horses left Russia’s Khasan Railway Station and was bound for the North’s Tumen River Station.

The Khasan-Tumen River route, the only railway border crossing between Russia and North Korea, was opened in 2013 but shut in February 2020 after the North locked down its borders due to the pandemic. It is a route to export goods to the Rason port in northeastern North Korea, which borders China and Russia.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]