The White House said Thursday that North Korea had supplied weapons to Russia’s private military group Wagner, calling the mercenary company a “competitor” for power to defense and other ministries in the Kremlin.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would increase sanctions against Wagner after North Korea sold anti-infantry rockets and missiles to the group last month, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
“Wagner is looking around the world for arms suppliers to support his military operations in Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters.
“We can confirm that North Korea has completed the initial arms delivery to Wagner and that it paid for that equipment,” he said.
According to Kirby, the group, which is independent of the Russian security establishment and spearheaded the bloody siege of Baghmut in Ukraine, spends more than $100 million each month on its Ukraine operations.
“Wagner is growing into a competitive powerhouse for the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said.
‘Sign of Despair’
In a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s foreign ministry denied conducting any arms deals with Russia, saying the story was “cooked up by some dishonest forces for different purposes”.
However, British Foreign Secretary James wisely said that the UK agreed with the US assessment that North Korea had supplied Russia with arms to the Wagner group in defiance of UN resolutions.
“President (Vladimir) Putin’s turning to North Korea for help is a sign of Russia’s desperation and isolation,” Wise said in a statement.
“We will work with our partners to ensure that North Korea pays a heavy price for supporting Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.”
Close to Putin
The Wagner group is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman once dubbed “Putin’s chef” for catering dinners for the powerful leader before and after he became Russian president.
A staunch critic of the Russian security establishment’s handling of the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin, 61, runs various businesses from his Concord Catering Group in St. Petersburg.
One is a St. Petersburg Internet “troll farm,” an Internet research agency that in 2016 ran the largest online operation to interfere in the US election to help then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
For that, Prigogine and several others involved in the operation were indicted in the United States in 2018.
Last month, he boasted about the surgery.
We intervened, we intervened, we will intervene, he said.
He has been hit with US and EU sanctions several times, especially for the activities of the Wagner Group.
The mercenary-like army — ostensibly private but tacitly sanctioned by the Kremlin — has been carrying out operations in Syria, Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic and other countries in Africa.
They have been accused of atrocities in many places. They were accused of participating with government forces in the March 2022 massacre of 300 civilians in Moura, Mali.
In Ukraine, the group served as an elite special forces-type operation with better training, equipment and supplies than the main Russian military.
sent before convict recruitment
Prigozhin himself called the fierce fighting in Bagmut a “meat grinder” that would destroy the Ukrainian army.
But Wagner himself suffered considerable casualties, and Prigogine relied on prisons to fill its ranks with Wagner convicts.
Kirby estimated that Wagner’s force was now about 50,000, including 10,000 skilled “contractors” and 40,000 convicts.
In Bakhmut and other areas of heavy fighting, relatively untrained Ukrainian forces were forced to front lines, where many were killed or wounded.
Kirby said 90 percent of the 1,000 Wagner fighters killed in fighting in recent weeks were criminals, according to U.S. reports.
“Mr. Prigozhin seems ready to throw Russian bodies into a meat grinder in Bagmut,” he said.
Kirby said Prigozhin was more interested in “influencing the Kremlin” than protecting his forces.
“For him, it’s about how good he looks to Mr. Putin and how well-respected he is in the Kremlin,” Kirby said.