Russia supplied with North Korean arms: US

Yevgeny Prigozhin is supporting Russian war efforts with weapons supplied by N Korea, the US says.

Yevgeny Prigozhin is supporting Russian war efforts with weapons supplied by N Korea, the US says. Photo: Getty

North Korea has delivered infantry rockets and missiles to Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, to support the war in Ukraine.

The private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, took delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, a sign of the group’s expanding role in that conflict, the White House says.

“Wagner is searching around the world for arms suppliers to support its military operations in Ukraine,” John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told reporters.

“We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment. Last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner,” Mr Kirby said.

The Wagner Group was founded in 2014 after Russia seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and sparked a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The United States estimates that Wagner has 50,000 personnel deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons, John Kirby said.

The US assessment is that the amount of material delivered by North Korea will not change the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, but more military equipment was expected to be delivered by Pyongyang.

In November, after the White House said Pyongyang was covertly supplying Russia with a “significant” number of artillery shells, North Korea said it had never had arms dealings with Russia and has no plans to do so.

The Russian and North Korean missions to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s news.

The United States accused Pyongyang and Moscow of violating UN sanctions on North Korea and will share its information with the UN Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in a statement.

Pyongyang has built ballistic missiles capable of striking almost anywhere on earth, weapons experts say, as well as shorter-range weapons.

Mr Kirby said Russian President Vladimir Putin has increasingly turned to the Wagner Group, owned by Mr Putin’s ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, for help in Ukraine, where Russian forces have stumbled in their bid to topple the Kyiv government.

The European Union has imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, accusing it of clandestine operations on the Kremlin’s behalf.

Vladimir Putin has said the group does not represent the Russian state, but that private military contractors have the right to work anywhere in the world as long as they do not break Russian law.

The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled new curbs on technology exports to the Wagner Group in a bid to further choke off its supplies.

More sanctions are coming in the weeks ahead against the company and its support group in countries around the world, John Kirby said.

Russian businessman Mr Prigozhin was spending more than $US100 million ($148 million) a month to fund Wagner’s operations in Ukraine, but has encountered problems recruiting Russians to fight there, Mr Kirby said.

US intelligence indicates that Wagner had played a major role in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and had suffered heavy casualties there with about 1000 Wagner fighters killed in recent weeks, most of them convicts, Mr Kirby said.

Inside Russia, Mr Prigozhin’s influence is expanding. Mr Kirby said that in some instances, Russian military officials in Ukraine were subordinate to Wagner forces.

In addition, Mr Prigozhin has criticised Russian generals and defence officials for their performance since the invasion.

Putin says Russia wants an end to the war

President Vladimir Putin says Russia wants an end to the war in Ukraine and that this would inevitably involve a diplomatic solution.

He  made the comments a day after US President Joe Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the White House and promised him continued and unwavering US support.

“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” the Russian president said.

“We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner the better, of course.”

“I have said many times: the intensification of hostilities leads to unjustified losses,” Mr Putin told said.

“All armed conflicts end one way or another with some kind of negotiations on the diplomatic track,” he added.

“Sooner or later, any parties in a state of conflict sit down and make an agreement.

The sooner this realisation comes to those who oppose us, the better. We have never given up on this.”

Russia says it is Ukraine that is refusing to talk. Kyiv says Russia must halt its attacks and give up all territory it has seized.

Mr Putin also played down the significance of the Patriot air defence system that Mr Biden agreed to supply to Mr Zelensky, saying Russia would find a way to counter it.

He said it was “quite old” and did not work like Russia’s S-300 system. “An antidote will always be found,” he said, boasting Russia would “crack” the Patriots.

“So those who do it are doing it in vain. It’s just prolonging the conflict, that’s all.”

The president also said a price cap imposed on Russian oil by Western countries, designed to limit its ability to fund the war, would not damage the Russian economy.

He said he would sign a decree early next week to set out Russia’s response.

White House unconvinced

White House spokesman John Kirby said Mr Putin had “shown absolutely zero indication that he was willing to negotiate” an end to the war, which began when Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24.

“Quite the contrary,” Mr Kirby said during an online briefing.

“Everything he (Mr Putin) is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people” and “escalate the war.”

Mr Kirby reiterated that Mr Biden was open to talks with Mr Putin, but only after the Russian leader “showed a seriousness about negotiations” and after consultations with Ukraine and US allies.

Russia has persistently said it is open to negotiations, but Ukraine and its allies suspect a ploy to buy time after a series of Russian defeats and retreats that have swung the momentum of the 10-month war in favour of Kyiv.

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