North Korea and Russia displayed a positive political relationship during the Cold War, beginning in the later half of the 1900s. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, North Korea seems to have renewed its relationship with Russia through political support and a supposed military alliance.
In July 2022, North Korea publicly showed its support for Russia by acknowledging the two Russian-backed breakaway entities in Ukraine as independent states, the third state to do so since Russia and Syria. The two regions in eastern Ukraine therefore established themselves as a “people’s republic,” named the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, which Russia has supported since 2014.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb. 2022, global sanctions and restrictions forced the aggressor to find a new source of weapons and supplies, as the military conflict grew longer and persists as of Oct. 2023.
The United States suspected North Korea as the new source for Russia’s military supplies, stating Russia imported millions of artillery shells and rockets from the country according to declassified intelligence reports back in Sep. 2022. In response to these claims, North Korea stated that the United States was spreading “reckless” rumors and denied the suspicions that they were selling weapons to Russia.
However, international powers still suspect a military alliance between North Korea and Russia, as the United States continues to track the flow of military weapons leaving North Korea. The United States revealed that North Korea delivered rockets and missiles to the Wagner Group, a private Russian military group extensively involved in the military conflict in Ukraine. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner Group, is known as a close associate of Vladimir Putin, who currently serves as the president of Russia.
John Kirby, the security spokesperson at the White House, states that the initial arms delivery from North Korea reached Wagner, who paid for the missiles and rockets. Wagner Group is not only supplying arms to Russia in the Ukraine War but also soldiers, as the company is fundamentally a mercenary group. Kirby, along with British officials, stated that almost 10% of Russian soldiers in Ukraine work for Wagner.
Wagner and Prigozhin denied the claims regarding troops and weapons, along with North Korea. Both sides stated that the United States was making false statements regarding the dealing of arms and that North Korea had nothing to do with supplying military weapons to Russia for use in the attack against Ukraine.
North Korean representative Kwon Jong Gun continued to deny claims of selling arms and called out the United States in spreading false accusations to provoke North Korea. He paired his statement with a warning against the United States to stop spreading groundless rumors against the North Korean government.
Nevertheless, the allegations of a military alliance still persist as John Kirby recently announced that American intelligence agencies were able to track over 1,000 containers of arms and weapons that were loaded onto Russian ships this past October 2023 through satellite images tracking North Korean ammunition depots. Kirby condemned North Korea in their decision to support Russia in its illegitimate war against Ukraine and continued to express concern over military trade between North Korea and Russia.
The strengthening diplomatic ties between the two countries also contribute to the growing concern of the United States as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently revisited Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was reciprocated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 19, 2023.
In response to these statements, Russian Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov called out the United States for spreading false information with no evidence to support their claims. Peskov followed these critiques with plans of the continuance of a cooperative relationship with North Korea.