Russia, North Korea Holding Secret Negotiations for Arms Deals: White House

Russia in secret talks with North Korea to secure an arms deal for the war in Ukraine, White House says.
Russia, North Korea Holding Secret Negotiations for Arms Deals: White House
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Chinese Communist Party politburo member Li Hongzhong, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attend a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, on July 27, 2023. (KCNA via Reuters)
Andrew Thornebrooke

Russia and North Korea are engaged in secret negotiations to secure an arms deal for Moscow’s ongoing war in Ukraine, according to the White House.

Pyongyang provided rockets and missiles to Moscow for use by the Wagner mercenary group early on in the war and is now considering further military assistance, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

“[North Korea] delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner,” Mr. Kirby said during an Aug. 30 press call. “Since then, Russia has been actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from [North Korea].

“We have new information ... that arms negotiations between Russia and [North Korea] are actively advancing.”

Mr. Kirby said that despite Pyongyang’s insistence that it wouldn’t provide further aid to Moscow, new intelligence suggests that Moscow is seeking “significant quantities and multiple types of munitions” and “raw materials” for its military–industrial base, as well as “electronic components” for use in military systems.

The intelligence includes an exchange of correspondence between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Mr. Kirby noted.

The letters followed two apparent in-person negotiations between Russian and North Korean officials in which Moscow sought to secure weapons from Pyongyang. The first meeting was conducted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who visited Pyongyang. That meeting was followed by another delegation of Russian officials to Pyongyang.

To that end, Mr. Kirby said the United States expected that “high-level discussion may continue in coming months.” The United States will continue to collect intelligence and expose attempts by any party to support Russia’s attempted conquest of Ukraine.

“We’re going to keep watching it closely through a variety of means of intelligence,” he said.

“We will continue to identify, expose, and counter Russian attempts to acquire military equipment from [North Korea] or, frankly, any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine.”

Putin ‘Failed’ to Achieve Primary Objectives in Ukraine

More than a year of brutal fighting in occupied eastern Ukraine has resulted in low stocks of munitions in Russia, Ukraine, and Ukraine’s partner nations.

Mr. Kirby described the conflict as a “gunfight” and said that “both sides are blazing away with artillery.”

Whereas Ukraine has been supported by a multinational group of partner nations, international sanctions on Russia have forced Moscow to increasingly rely on what Mr. Kirby referred to as “rogue regimes.”

North Korea isn’t the only power to cooperate with Russia or to support its war in Ukraine, however.

Iran has also provided Russia with thousands of suicide drones for use in Ukraine. Tehran also signed a deal with Moscow in May to provide more of the drones and munitions in exchange for fighter jets, helicopters, and radar systems.
Similarly, companies in China, some of them state-owned, have consistently sold weapons and other military equipment to Russia throughout the war, although the White House hasn’t acknowledged if it has evidence that these actions were coordinated by authorities in Beijing.

Mr. Kirby suggested that Moscow’s reliance on such rogue states demonstrated the continued failure of Russian leadership to achieve any of its core objectives in Ukraine.

“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,” Mr. Kirby said of Mr. Putin. “There is no other way to look at that than desperation and weakness.”

“Mr. Putin has achieved zero of his strategic goals in Ukraine. None. He has lost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of troops—either killed or wounded in this war.”

Ukraine Gaining Ground in Slow Counteroffensive

Ukraine and Russia have been locked in a grinding war of attrition for several months as Kyiv has attempted to push its counteroffensive further into the Russian-occupied east.
Moscow’s courting of Pyongyang comes amid a series of political and military victories by Kyiv, which may help to break the apparent stalemate in eastern Europe.
Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces liberated the fortified village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Robotyne sits on the road between the frontline town of Orikhiv, Ukraine, and the Russian-occupied rail hub of Tokmak. Its strategic placement could give Ukraine further ability to attack key Russian supply lines.

If Ukrainian forces can push from Robotyne into Tokmak, roughly 18 miles south, they could effectively split the Russian forces occupying the region north of the Sea of Azov, cutting off supplies to Russian units located in Kherson and western Zaporizhzhia.

Some among Ukraine’s military leadership believe that Ukraine has now broken through the most difficult of Russia’s defense networks in southern Ukraine.

Still, the fighting is intense, and there remain hundreds of miles of minefields and an increasingly bitter drone and missile campaign to contend with.

Leadership in Kyiv hopes that new fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands will help to overcome that.

While Kyiv has sought advanced warplanes from the West for months, it has—until now—been prevented from obtaining the U.S.-made aircraft by the United States, possibly because of concerns they could be used to attack the Russian homeland, thereby further escalating the war in Europe.

U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to allow the sales to move forward on Aug. 18, however, setting in motion Ukraine’s acquisition of long-sought fighter jets. Danish and Dutch leadership have since agreed to give their F-16s to Ukraine.

Russia Strikes at Ukraine’s Food, Civilian Infrastructure

There remains the issue of the ever-increasing drone and missile war between Moscow and Kyiv, in which both sides have accused one another of terrorism for the targeting of nonmilitary targets.
Ukrainian drones struck across six regions of Russia on Aug. 30, setting an airport ablaze and damaging aircraft in the country’s Pskov region.

Similarly, several drone attacks in Moscow in recent months appear to have targeted Russian intelligence officials in their offices and homes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the earlier drone strikes in Moscow during a speech, saying it was fair that the war should come to the homeland of “Russian terrorists.”

Moscow has, since July, steadily increased its attacks on civilian infrastructure. Russian forces have targeted apartment complexes, grain storage facilities, and commercial ports during that time.

The effort appears to be part of a wider campaign by Russia to limit or destroy Ukraine’s ability to feed itself and much of the world, according to the U.S. State Department.

Russia has also announced that all ships proceeding to Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea will be considered potential carriers of military cargo for an enemy state, regardless of whether they’re flagged as civilian ships or what nation’s flag they fly.

Andrew Thornebrooke is a national security correspondent for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.