White House national security spokesman John Kirby said in a Thursday press briefing that North Korea is supplying arms to Russia’s Wagner Group mercenaries, a firm related to Putin.
After months of making nebulous claims that North Korea is giving Russian forces tens of thousands of artillery shells—a claim both parties have denied—the Biden administration finally released specific claims on Thursday, claiming that Pyongyang had provided the Wagner group with arms.
Wagner is an infamous private military contractor whose founder is referred to in Western media as “Putin’s chef” and who is rumoured to be connected to Vladimir Putin. War crimes in Ukraine and earlier on deployments in Syria have long been charged against Wagner operatives in the Western media.
“Wagner is searching around the world for arms suppliers to support its military operations in Ukraine,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said in a Thursday press briefing. “We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment,” he added.
In addition to operating as a “rival” to the established defence ministry, Kirby described the private Russian contractor as vying for control among the official Kremlin ministries. According to several recent reports, Wagner mercenaries allegedly worked in Ukraine over the past 10 months with no restrictions and their own set of rules of engagement.
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“Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby explained, also stating that Wagner is spending over $100 million each month for Ukraine operations.
Wagner was officially labelled “terrorist” by the European Parliament a few weeks ago, but the US is reportedly still debating the move and threatening to tighten up penalties against the firm with ties to Vladimir Putin.
In general, the White House has resisted calls from more hawkish corners of Congress to label Russia a state sponsor of terror, and is reportedly now considering calling Russia a “aggressor state”—though there is no precedent for this term and it appears to have been entirely invented by the administration to appease critics.
As CNN describes, “An aggressor state designation, unlike the label state sponsor of terrorism, is not an official State Department category that would trigger specific US sanctions, and critics say it would be easier for the president to rescind that designation than the state sponsor of terrorism one.”
The particular sort of weapons that the North Koreans are believed to have given to Wagner Group are still unknown at this time. According to reports, the Russian military as a whole is rapidly running out of artillery due to its fast use in the eastern and southern front lines. Later that evening, Pyongyang refuted the accusation in a formal statement.