SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has denied US claims it is shipping artillery shells and ammunition to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, accusing the United States of lying on Tuesday.
The denial follows dozens of weapons tests by North Korea, including short-range missiles that are likely to be nuclear and an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US mainland. Pyongyang said it was testing its missiles and artillery so it could “relentlessly” hit key South Korean and US targets if it wanted to.
North Korea has built good ties with its traditional ally Russia in recent years and has even suggested sending workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine. The United States has accused North Korea, one of the most armed countries in the world, of supplying Soviet-era ammunition, such as artillery shells, to replenish Russian supplies depleted in Ukraine.
Last week, Russia sent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a trainload of 30 thoroughbred horses, opening the border with his neighbor for the first time in 2 1/2 years. Kim is an avid equestrian and state media has often depicted him galloping on snowy mountain trails, astride a white loader. The horses, Orlov trotters, are prized in Russia.
Spokespersons for Russia’s Far Eastern Railway told the state news agency on Nov. 2 that the first resumed train carrying the 30 horses was headed to North Korea and said the next train would carry medicines.
Experts say North Korea is looking for Russian fuel, as well as technology transfers and supplies needed to increase its military capabilities, while pursuing more advanced weapon systems.
In September, North Korea resumed freight train service with China, its largest trading partner, ending a five-month hiatus.
Last week, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby accused North Korea of covertly delivering a “significant number” of ammunition shipments to Russia. He said the United States believes North Korea was trying to cover up the transmission route by making it appear that the weapons were being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.
“We regard such actions by the US as part of their hostile attempt to tarnish the image of (North Korea) in the international arena,” said an unidentified deputy director of the North Korean military’s foreign affairs office. Korean ministry in a statement from the state media. .
“We make it clear once again that we have never had ‘arms trade’ with Russia and that we do not intend to do so in the future,” said the deputy director.
In September, US officials confirmed a recently released US intelligence finding that Russia was buying millions of missiles and artillery shells from North Korea. North Korea later rejected that report, calling on Washington to stop making “reckless comments” and “shut up”.
On Nov. 2, Kirby said the U.S. has “an idea” of which country or countries the North can channel weapons, but would not specify. He said the North Korean shipments “will not change the course of the war,” citing Western attempts to resupply the Ukrainian military.
Plagued by international sanctions and export controls, Russia bought Iranian-made drones in August that US officials said had technical problems. For Russia, experts say North Korea is likely another good option for its ammunition supply, as the North maintains a significant stockpile of grenades, many of which are copies of Soviet-era ones.
Even as most of Europe and the West have pulled out, North Korea has pushed for strengthening relations with Russia, blaming the US for the crisis and condemning the West’s “hegemonic policies” as justifications. for military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself. In July, North Korea became the only country to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk territories as independent, alongside Russia and Syria.
North Korea’s possible arms supply to Russia would violate UN resolutions that prohibit the North from trading weapons with other countries. But North Korea is unlikely to face new sanctions for it due to a division in the UN Security Council over America’s confrontations with Russia over its war in Ukraine and its separate strategic competitions with China.
Earlier this year, Russia and China vetoed a US-led effort to tighten sanctions against North Korea over its series of ballistic missile tests banned by multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
Some observers say North Korea has also used Russian aggression in Ukraine to ramp up weapons testing activities and increase pressure on the United States and South Korea. Last week, the North fired dozens of missiles in response to large-scale air exercises between the US and South Korea that Pyongyang sees as a rehearsal for a possible invasion.
In a separate statement published by state media on Tuesday, a senior North Korean diplomat criticized the recent conviction of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of North Korea’s missile launch barrage, calling him a “mouthpiece” of the US government.
“The UN Secretary General is repeating what the White House and the State Department say as if he were their spokesperson, which is regrettable,” said Kim Son Gyong, vice minister for international organizations at the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kim said Guterres’ “dishonest and prejudiced behavior” has contributed to rising tensions in the region.
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