Pentagon Confirms Russia-North Korea Arms Deal Talks

Pentagon Confirms Russia-North Korea Arms Deal Talks

The Department of Defense said that Russian officials had initiated the negotiations with North Korea but it was unclear whether any agreement had been finalized or whether any shipments were actually in progress.


Spokesmen for the Defense Department and the National Security Council confirmed on Tuesday that Russia had sought to purchase rockets and artillery shells from North Korea—underscoring the difficulties facing Moscow as it tries to resupply its forces in Ukraine amid pervasive logistical challenges and Western sanctions.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, announced during a regularly scheduled press conference that the Kremlin had “specifically asked for ammunition” from Pyongyang. He indicated that Russian officials had initiated the negotiations with North Korea, but added that the Defense Department had no further details, such as whether any agreement had been finalized or whether any shipments were actually in progress.


However, Ryder suggested that the fact that negotiations were taking place was “indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in, in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine.” The spokesman observed that Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its seventh month, had “not [been] going well” and had harmed Russian logistics, forcing it to seek imports from abroad in order to continue supplying its forces on the front line.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby likewise emphasized that U.S. intelligence on the proposed arrangement was incomplete and that there was nothing to suggest that a purchase had actually occurred, but emphasized that the mere existence of talks was “just another indication of how desperate Putin’s becoming.”

“It’s an indication of how much his defense industrial establishment is suffering as a result of this war and the degree of desperation that he’s reaching out to countries like Iran and North Korea for assistance,” he said, referencing earlier reports that Russia had purchased drones from Iran for use in Ukraine.

Anonymous U.S. officials also suggested that Moscow could seek further weapons purchases from Pyongyang following the munitions, according to the New York Times.

Russia denied the Pentagon’s reports, with Russian ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Vassily Nebenzia describing it as “another fake thing that’s been circulated” and claiming that he would “laugh about it.”

Throughout Russia’s war in Ukraine, North Korea has sought to tighten its relations with the Kremlin. North Korea was one of five countries to vote “no” on a UN resolution condemning the invasion, alongside Russia, Belarus, Syria, and Eritrea. In July, North Korea recognized the independence of the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic separatist proto-states in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, prompting Kyiv to sever its already-minimal ties with Pyongyang.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reacted with humor to the announcement, noting on Twitter that Russia was broadly “switch[ing] to North Korean standards: be it weapons, politics, [or] standard of living.”

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.