Dec 22, 2022 - World

U.S. says North Korea supplying arms to Russian mercenary group in Ukraine

People inside the Wagner Private Military Company's headquarters in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in November 2022.

A look inside the Wagner Group's headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia, in November. Photo: Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea recently supplied infantry rockets and missiles to a private Russian mercenary company, the Wagner Group, currently deployed in Ukraine as part of Russia's invasion of the country, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Thursday.

Why it matters: Kirby said the U.S. currently believes Wagner has deployed 50,000 mercenaries to Ukraine. The arms shipment signals the group is performing an expanded role in the war and is increasingly searching around the world for arms suppliers.

  • The Wagner Group was founded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has deployed mercenaries to other areas of the world, including the Middle East and West Africa.
  • The U.S. is worried North Korea is planning to send the mercenary group additional arms and urged Pyongyang to cease, Kirby said.

What they're saying: “Today we can confirm that North Korea has” delivered “infantry rockets and missiles to Russia for use by Wagner," Kirby said Thursday. “Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and Russian ministries."

  • Prigozhin has shown he’s willing to “throw Wagner fighters into the meat grinder," Kirby added.
  • Among the 50,000 deployed in Ukraine, Kirby said the U.S. believes 40,000 are recruited convicts and 10,000 are contractors.
  • Kirby said the U.S. will announce new sanctions against Wagner and its support networks "in the coming weeks."

The big picture: U.S. officials do not believe the North Korean shipment, which was completed last month, will significantly alter the dynamic of the battlefield, according to Reuters, which first reported the transfer.

  • Officials are reportedly concerned the shipment violated United Nations Security Council resolutions and plan to raise it with the council.

Earlier this year, the U.S. accused Russia's Ministry of Defense of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea to aid its war in Ukraine, Axios' Ivana Saric reports.

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