North Korea claimed Tuesday that US assertions that Pyongyang is sending artillery ammunition to Moscow for its war in Ukraine were untrue, according to official media KCNA.
The reprimand comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula following a series of North Korean weapons tests last week, including an intercontinental ballistic missile, while the US and South Korea conducted their largest-ever air force drill.
The US and South Korea have warned that the North’s latest missile launches might lead to a nuclear test.
The statement on Tuesday countered claims made last week by White House national security spokesman John Kirby that North Korean artillery was being sent to Russia under the guise of deployments to the Middle East or Africa.
“Recently, the US has been constantly propagating a baseless rumor of arms deals’ between the DPRK and Russia,” North Korea’s vice director of military foreign affairs of the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement, according to KCNA.
The “rumor,” according to the statement, is part of the US “hostile endeavor to damage the image of the DPRK in the international arena,” using an abbreviation for North Korea’s official name.
“We reiterate that we have never conducted ‘arms deals with Russia and have no plans to do so in the future,” the statement said.
Kirby had stated that US authorities did not know if Russia had received the munitions but were monitoring the shipments.
According to US intelligence, North Korea “is covertly supplying Russia’s war in Ukraine with a significant number of artillery shells, while obfuscating the true destination of the arms shipments by attempting to make them appear to be sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa,” Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.
He stated that the US believes the “significant” number of shells sent are sufficient to help Russia prolong the war, which began with Moscow’s invasion of its former Soviet neighbor in February, but not sufficient to give Russia an advantage over Ukrainian forces, which are supplied by the US and NATO allies.
A symptom of Russia’s ‘shortages’
Pyongyang refuted in September a White House report that it was intending to supply ammunition to help the Russian military rebuild its stockpiles, which had been severely reduced by the now eight-month-old conflict.
The shipments, according to Kirby, are “a reflection of Russia’s defense product shortages and demands,” as they face international sanctions that limit their ability to restock, which is also why Iran is supplying drone supplies.
Kirby refused to specify how or by what channels the North Korean munitions are being transported.
He stated that the US will talk with friends and partners, including at the United Nations, about possible steps.
North Korea’s new warning to the US comes only a day after Pyongyang promised a “resolute and overwhelming” military reaction to last week’s US-South Korean war games.
North Korea’s military stated that its recent ballistic missile launches were in response to the so-called Vigilant Storm operation launched by Washington and Seoul.
The international community frequently hears assertions regarding Pyongyang’s non-involvement in arms agreements, but can we believe such North Korean statements?