North Korea blames U.S. for Ukraine support, deployment of aircraft carrier

Residents hold US and North Korean flags while they wait for motorcade of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un en route to the Metropole Hotel for the second US- North Korea summit in Hanoi

By Hyunsu Yim and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) -Top North Korean military officials criticised the United States on Monday for its expanding military assistance to Ukraine and dispatch of one of its aircraft carriers to join joint drills with South Korea and Japan, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea's vice minister of defence, Kim Kang Il, said the U.S. sending an aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula was a "very dangerous" show of force, leaving doors open for North Korea's "overwhelming, new demonstration of deterrence," state media KCNA reported.

A nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt, arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan on Saturday to take part in joint military exercises later this month with the host nation and Japan, naval officials said.

Just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Pyongyang, Pak Jong Chon, one of North Korea's top military officials, said Moscow the "right to opt for any kind of retaliatory strike" if Washington kept pushing Ukraine to a "proxy war" against Russia.

It could provoke a stronger response from Moscow, and a "new world war", Pak said, according to KCNA.

He referred to comments by the Pentagon last week that Ukrainian forces can use U.S.-supplied weapons to strike Russian forces anywhere across the border into Russia.

Washington and Seoul have been increasingly alarmed by deepening military cooperation between Russia and the North, and have accused them of violating international laws by trading in arms for Russia to use against Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any arms transfer.

A pact signed by Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the Russian president's visit to Pyongyang last week commits each side to provide immediate military assistance to the other in the event of armed aggression against either one of them.

Putin thanked Kim for his hospitality during the trip which brought ties to an unprecedented level, the Kremlin said on Monday.

Analysts say the pact would lay the framework for arms trade between the two countries and facilitate their anti-U.S. and anti-West coalition.

Senior officials of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan condemned "in the strongest possible terms" deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia in a joint statement released by Seoul's foreign ministry on Monday.

Russia may have received about 1.6 million artillery shells from North Korea from August to January, the Washington Post reported on Saturday, analysing data from U.S. security nonprofit C4ADS that shows 74,000 metric tons of explosives moved from Russia's far east ports to other sites mainly along the borders near Ukraine.

North Korea plans to send construction and engineering forces to Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine as early as next month for rebuilding work, South Korean cable TV network TV Chosun reported earlier, citing a South Korean government official.

Those forces, working overseas under the disguise of construction workers to earn hard currency for the regime, would be moved from China to those Russia-held regions, the network said.

Asked about the TV Chosun reports, South Korea's foreign ministry said it was continuing monitoring the situation.

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim and Ju-min Park; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Lincoln Feast and Raju Gopalakrishnan)