February 2, 2023

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Russia’s Wagner Group has bought North Korean weapons for the war in Ukraine, according to Reuters

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An interior view shows the PMC Wagner Center, a project implemented by businessman and founder of the private Wagner military group Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office building in Saint Petersburg, Russia in November

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia’s private military company, the Wagner Group, has accepted a shipment of arms from North Korea to bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, a sign of the group’s growing role in the conflict, the White House said on Thursday.

“Wagner is looking around the world for arms suppliers to support its military operations in Ukraine,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) told reporters.

“We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms shipment to Wagner, who paid for this equipment. Last month, North Korea shipped infantry missiles and missiles to Russia for Wagner use,” Kirby said.

The news was first reported by Reuters. The Wagner Group was formed in 2014 after Russia occupied and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and sparked a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

The United States estimates Wagner has 50,000 personnel stationed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 convicts recruited from Russian prisons, Kirby said.

The US assessment is that the amount of materials supplied by North Korea will not change the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, but more military equipment was expected to be supplied by Pyongyang.

After the White House said in November that Pyongyang was secretly supplying Russia with a “significant” number of artillery shells, North Korea said it has never had, and has no plans to, any arms deals with Russia.

The Russian and North Korean missions at the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s news.

The United States has accused Pyongyang and Moscow of violating UN sanctions on North Korea and will share its information with the UN Security Council’s North Korea Sanctions Committee, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement Explanation.

Pyongyang has built ballistic missiles that can hit almost anywhere on Earth, weapons experts say, as well as shorter-range weapons.

Kirby said Russian President Vladimir Putin has increasingly turned to the Wagner Group, owned by Putin’s ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, for help in Ukraine, where Russian forces have failed in their attempt to overthrow the Kyiv government .

The European Union has imposed sanctions on the Wagner group, accusing them of conducting secret deals on behalf of the Kremlin.

Putin said the group does not represent the Russian state, but private military companies have the right to operate anywhere in the world as long as they do not violate Russian law.

SANCTIONS AGAINST WAGNER

The Biden administration unveiled new restrictions on technology exports to the Wagner Group on Wednesday in a bid to further choke off its supplies.

More sanctions will be imposed on the company and its support group in countries around the world in the coming weeks, Kirby said.

Russian businessman Prigozhin spends more than $100 million a month to fund Wagner’s operations in Ukraine but is having trouble recruiting Russians to fight there, Kirby said.

Staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, the Wagner Group has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, among others.

US intelligence indicates Wagner played a major role in the battle for the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut and suffered heavy casualties there, with about 1,000 Wagner fighters killed in recent weeks, most of them convicts, Kirby said.

Inside Russia, Prigozhin’s influence is expanding, and his group’s independence from the Russian Defense Ministry “has only increased and increased over the 10 months of this war,” Kirby said without providing evidence.

Kirby said that in some cases, Russian military officials in Ukraine report to Wagner forces.

Additionally, Prigozhin has criticized Russian generals and defense officials for their performance since the invasion.