In exchange, Kirby said, “we have already observed Russian ships offloading containers” that “may constitute an initial delivery of weapons from Russia” to North Korea.
He did not specify the kind of arms believed to be transported by either side. The administration has said previously that Russia was scouring the world for additional ammunition as both sides in the Ukraine war have expended hundreds of thousands of artillery shells.
U.S. intelligence, Kirby said, has assessed that weaponry Pyongyang has sought from Russia includes “fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, armored vehicles” and “ballistic missile production equipment.”
He said the United States would “continue to expose” such transfers and would “not allow the DPRK to aid Russia’s war machine in secret, and the world should know about support Russia may provide DPRK in return.” The initials stand for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of the autocratic North Korean state.
The alleged shipments were revealed less than a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s far east and pledged Pyongyang’s “full and unconditional support” for Russia’s security and defense needs. The six-day visit was Kim’s longest outside his country since he took power in 2011.
During the trip, Kim visited a number of Russian military and technical sites and met with senior military officials.
Since the early days of the Ukraine war, the Biden administration has voiced suspicion that North Korea has supplied weapons to Russia, charges that have been amplified as it became clear last year that Moscow was running low on advanced weaponry and was expending massive amounts of shells in what has become largely an artillery war. The United States and its allies and partners have similarly searched the world for additional munitions for Ukraine, including the 155mm shells used by U.S.-provided howitzers and other-caliber shells for Soviet-era artillery still in use by Ukraine.
The United States has also condemned Iran for providing Moscow with drones, citing Tehran and Pyongyang as rogue regimes Russia has turned to as most of the world has condemned its invasion of Ukraine.
In July, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang in what the administration said was a search for additional munitions.
In early September, amid unconfirmed reports of Kim’s pending trip, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters that North Korea would “pay a price” in the international community if it made an arms agreement with Russia.
“We have continued to convey privately as well as publicly to the North Koreans — and asked allies and partners to do the same — our view that they should abide by their publicly stated commitments that they’re not going to provide these weapons,” he said. Sullivan did not specify what steps the administration might take if North Korea went ahead with an arms deal.
Kirby noted that such shipments “directly violate” U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from exporting or importing arms. The United States has already imposed sanctions on individuals working to facilitate arms deals with Russia. It will “enforce those where appropriate and will impose new sanctions against those seeking to enable” Russia’s continuation of the war with Ukraine, Kirby said.
In an update of conditions on the Ukraine battlefield, Kirby said that Russia had launched a renewed offensive in the eastern part of Ukraine, apparently “using human wave tactics” in which “masses of poorly trained troops, without proper equipment,” are thrown into battle.
Any progress Russia has made has been “very, very scant and short,” he said, but was “a sobering reminder that Russia is not prepared to give up” and of the “critical” importance that Congress approve new funding for Ukraine.