North Korea denies sending artillery to Russia for use against Ukraine
North Korea has denied allegations that it is shipping artillery shells and ammunition to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, accusing the U.S. on Tuesday of lying.
The denial follows dozens of weapons tests by North Korea, including short-range missiles that are likely nuclear-capable and an intercontinental ballistic missile that could target the U.S. mainland. Pyongyang said it was testing the missiles and artillery so that it could “mercilessly” strike key South Korean and U.S. targets if it chose.
North Korea has been cozying up to traditional ally Russia in recent years and even hinted at sending workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine. The United States has accused North Korea, one of the most armed countries in the world, of supplying Soviet-era ammunition such as artillery shells to replenish Russian stockpiles that have been depleted in Ukraine.
Last week, Russia sent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a trainload of 30 thoroughbred horses, opening the border with its neighbor for the first time in 2½ years. Kim is an avid horseman, and state media have often pictured him galloping on snowy mountain trails astride a white charger. The horses, Orlov trotters, are prized in Russia.
Spokespeople for Russia’s Far Eastern Railway told state-run news media Wednesday that the first train left for North Korea with the horses and that the next train would carry medicine.
Experts say North Korea may be seeking Russian fuel and also technology transfers and supplies needed to advance its military capabilities as it pursues more sophisticated weapons systems.
North Korea’s military says its recent barrage of missile tests were practices to ‘mercilessly’ strike key South Korean and U.S. targets.
In September, North Korea restarted its freight train service with China, its biggest trading partner, ending a five-month hiatus.
Last week, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby accused North Korea of covertly supplying a “significant number” of ammunition shipments to Russia. He said the U.S. believed North Korea was trying to obscure the transfer route by making it appear the weapons were being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.
“We regard such moves of the U.S. as part of its hostile attempt to tarnish the image of [North Korea] in the international arena,” a vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s military foreign affairs office said in a statement carried by state media.
“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,” the unidentified vice director said.
North Korea has joined Russia and Syria in recognizing the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk, two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
In September, U.S. officials confirmed a newly declassified U.S. intelligence finding that Russia was in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea. North Korea later dismissed that report, calling on Washington to stop making “reckless remarks” and to “keep its mouth shut.”
On Wednesday, Kirby said the U.S. had “an idea” of which country or countries the North may funnel the weapons through but didn’t specify them. He said the North Korean shipments were “not going to change the course of the war,” citing Western efforts to resupply the Ukrainian military.
Under international sanctions and export controls, Russia in August bought Iranian-made drones that U.S. officials said had technical problems. For Russia, experts say North Korea is likely another good option for its ammunitions supply, because the North keeps a significant stockpile of shells, many of them copies of Soviet-era ones.
Even as most of Europe and the West has pulled away, North Korea has pushed to boost relations with Russia, blaming the U.S. for the crisis and decrying the West’s “hegemonic policy” as justifying military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself. In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognize Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk territories as independent breakaway republics.
Iran’s foreign minister says his country has supplied Russia with drones but insists that the transfer came before Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
North Korea’s possible arms supply to Russia would be a violation of United Nations resolutions that ban the North from trading weapons with other countries. But it’s unlikely for Pyongyang to receive fresh sanctions for that because of division at the U.N. Security Council.
Earlier this year, Russia and China already vetoed a U.S.-led attempt to toughen sanctions on North Korea over its series of ballistic missile tests, which are banned by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Some observers say North Korea has also been using the Russian aggression in Ukraine as an opportunity to ramp up weapons-testing activity and the pressure on the U.S. and South Korea. Last week, the North test-fired dozens of missiles in response to large-scale U.S.-South Korea aerial drills that Pyongyang views as a rehearsal for a potential invasion.
In a separate statement published Tuesday by North Korean state media, a senior diplomat criticized U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent condemnation of the North’s missile launch barrage.
North Korea’s recent barrage of missile tests is raising a question: How does the country pay for the tests?
“The U.N. secretary-general is echoing what the White House and the State Department say as if he were their mouthpiece, which is deplorable,” said Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations at the North Korean Foreign Ministry.
Kim said that Guterres’ “unfair and prejudiced behavior” had contributed to the worsening tensions in the region.
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