Putin and Kim Jong Un have been trading letters as secret talks on getting North Korean weapons into Russia's hands are 'actively advancing,' White House says

  • Arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are "advancing," a White House official said.

  • US intelligence shows increasing communication between Putin and Kim Jong Un in recent weeks.

  • Potential deals between the two countries could see Russia get munitions and raw materials.

Secret arms negotiations between Russia North Korea are "actively advancing," a top White House official revealed this week, as Moscow seeks munitions and raw materials as part of the latest Kremlin scheme to obtain weaponry from pariah states to fuel its ongoing war in Ukraine.

Last month, a Russian delegation led by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to North Korea in a bid to convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Moscow, the US previously disclosed. Artillery has been a key feature of Russia's 18-month-long invasion of Ukraine, as both sides expend huge numbers of munitions on a daily basis.

But new US intelligence shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un have been exchanging letters ever since those high-level discussions took place, pledging to increase bilateral cooperation between their two countries, White House National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

After Shoigu's visit in July, which coincided with a major military parade in Pyongyang, another group of Russian officials traveled to North Korea for additional follow-up discussions about "potential arms deals" between the two countries, Kirby said, adding that important negotiations could continue in the coming months.

"Under these potential deals, Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from the DPRK," Kirby noted, referring to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. He said the Russian military plans to use this weaponry in Ukraine and added that the potential deals could also include the delivery of raw materials to help support Russia's defense industrial base.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attends a reception for the Russian military delegation hosted by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as part of the 70th anniversary celebration of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 27, 2023, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency.

The Biden administration has regularly accused the Kremlin of approaching rogue states like North Korea for security assistance — especially ammunition — throughout the bloody conflict, often attributing these actions to the desperation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and crippling widespread sanctions on Moscow implemented by the US and its Western allies.

Iran, another country isolated on the world stage that Washington accuses of supporting Russia, has outfitted Moscow with thousands of explosive drones that its military uses to attack Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure.

Earlier this year, US officials said North Korea had given rockets and missiles to the Kremlin-funded Wagner Group mercenary organization, which spent months fighting in eastern Ukraine alongside the regular Russian military before its ultimate downfall following an armed mutiny against the Kremlin. Several months later, the White House disclosed that Russia had gone as far as to offer food to impoverished North Korea in exchange for military aid.

Ukraine has actually captured North Korean rockets from Russian stockpiles. The Ukrainians then put them to use against the Russians but noted they are wildly unpredictable.

Despite repeated assurances from Pyongyang that it would not sell weapons to Russia, the US remains concerned "that the DPRK continues to consider providing military support" to Moscow, Kirby said, adding that any arms deal between the two countries would violate several United Nations Security Council resolutions.

"We're continuing to monitor the situation closely, and we urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia," Kirby continued. He asserted that the US will take action by sanctioning individuals and entities "working to facilitate arms deals between these two countries."

Ukrainian soldiers prepare shells to load onto an attack helicopter in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.
Ukrainian soldiers prepare shells to load onto an attack helicopter in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.AP Photo/Bram Janssen

Indeed, the US Treasury Department in March slapped sanctions on a Slovakian national for attempting to facilitate arms deals between Moscow and Pyongyang, which would see the former receive weapons and ammunition in exchange for commercial aircraft, raw materials, and commodities.

"Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK," US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at the time. "We remain committed to degrading Russia's military-industrial capabilities, as well as exposing and countering Russian attempts to evade sanctions and obtain military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine."

The Biden administration's new warning about Russia's quest for military support on Wednesday comes as Ukrainian forces continue to make slow and steady territorial gains amid their grueling counteroffensive in the eastern and southern regions. Moscow's complex defensive lines — which consist of minefields, anti-armor obstacles, and trenches — have prevented Kyiv's troops from moving at a faster pace because clearing these fortifications is a deadly and painstaking process.

Despite criticism and concerns from some in the West about Ukraine's progress, Washington and its NATO allies have asserted their commitment to providing Kyiv with military support. Earlier this week, for example, the Pentagon announced a $250 million security assistance package, which includes advanced air defense capabilities, artillery rounds, and mine-clearing equipment.

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