The White House has claimed that North Korea has been selling arms to the Russian private military outfit known as the “Wagner Group”.
It also stated that the influential mercenary organization rivalled the Kremlin’s Defense Ministry for power, as well as other unspecified Russian ministries.
In the wake of this, the US announced its intention to impose further sanctions against the Wagner Group. North Korea reportedly sold missiles and anti-infantry rockets to the mercenaries in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, according to the US National Security spokesperson John Kirby.
Kirby stated that Wagner was conducting a worldwide search for arms dealers that would provide them with weapons and materiel for their operations in Ukraine. He also said that the White House was able to confirm that the rogue nation had completed an initial delivery of weapons to the Wagner Group, who immediately rendered payment.
Kirby went on to say that the mercenary outfit – which is ostensibly autonomous and has no official links to the Russian government – spends approximately USD 100 million per month on its military operations in Ukraine. The group is currently waging a protracted siege against Bakhmut.
Kirby reiterated that the Wagner Group represented a “rival power center” to Russian ministries and the Russian military itself.
The North Korean Foreign Ministry, speaking by way of the state press organization the Korean Central News Agency, emphatically denied any arms transactions with either Russia or the Wagner Group and alleged that the story had been manufactured by “dishonest forces” for “different purposes”.
The British Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, stated in a press release that the UK government concurred with the US assessment of the situation and confirmed that the UK stood behind the US’s assertion that North Korea had acted in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
Cleverly went on to say that the fact that “Vladimir Putin is turning to North Korea for help” was indicative of the fact that Russia was desperate and isolated. Cleverly then asserted that the UK would work with its partners to ensure that North Korea would meet with appropriate retaliatory measures for its support of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
What is the Wagner Group?
The Wagner Group is headed up by a Russian businessman called Yevgeny Prigozhin, a man once nicknamed “Putin’s Chef” due to his previous experience in catering the Russian president’s meals both before and after his rise to power.
Prigozhin, a longtime critic of the Russian Defense Ministry’s handling of the Ukraine affair, owns a number of businesses under the umbrella company of Concord Catering in St. Petersburg. One such business is the Internet Research Agency – the so-called ‘troll farm’ that enacted a massive disinformation campaign during the 2016 US election.
Prigozhin – who boasted of his interference in the 2016 election – has been the target of multiple sanctions from the US and EU, generally due to Wagner Group operations.
The mercenary group does not limit its activities to Ukraine. It has been a belligerent in conflicts in Syria, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Libya, and a number of other African countries. No such conflicts were officially sanctioned by the Russian government, but the group received the implicit approval thereof.
The group is controversial for its purported involvement in atrocities against civilians. One of the most notable of these incidents was in Mali in March 2022, where Wagner group mercenaries were allegedly involved in the massacre of 300 civilians in the city of Moura.
The Wagner Group now numbers around 50,000, according to Kirby. However, around 40,000 of those were convicts that had been conscripted into their ranks and were thrown into battle with little training or preparation as so-called “meat shields”.
Recently, Prigozhin released a video claiming “betrayals” in Moscow had left his men fighting in Bakhmut lacking ammunition and unable to hold on to their positions.