This author wrote in an earlier publication about the attempts to accuse the DPRK of supplying weapons to Russia, however, barely two months after the provocative New York Times article, the United States has revisited the issue, and at an even higher level.
On November 2, 2022, the US National Security Council (NSC) for Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby stated that while North Korea had publicly denied its intention to supply ammunition to Russia in September 2022, information about it had reportedly been confirmed. US intelligence “indicates that the DPRK is secretly supplying Russia with a significant amount of artillery shells for the war in Ukraine, while concealing the true purpose of the arms shipments and attempting to make it seem as though they are being sent to the Middle East and North Africa”.
The White House, however, provided no further “details” or confirmation. Kirby declined to comment on details such as the type and size of the projectiles North Korea allegedly delivered to Russia and their specific purpose. In addition, Kirby said, “we have had previous indications that the Russians made contact with North Korea… Our indications are that the DPRK is covertly supplying, and we are going to monitor to see whether the shipments are received,” adding that the US will discuss with its allies whether to refer this matter to the UN. Nonetheless, the press secretary added that Russia’s support from Iran and North Korea will not change the course of the war.
However, Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder declined to comment when asked whether the supplies had arrived in Russia.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price, in turn, said that Washington plans to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang in this regard.
In response, the deputy director of the DPRK Ministry of National Defense’s Foreign Military Relations Department issued a press statement on November 7, in which he pointed out that “the United States, which constantly spreads the unfounded” version of arms deals “between our country and Russia, is still trying to impose them as faits accomplis.” Pyongyang assesses such scheming as one of the links in a hostile attempt to tarnish the DPRK’s image in the international arena, stating once again that “we have never” made arms deals “with Russia and do not plan to make such deals in the future,” and that America should refrain from unreasonable quibbles.
On November 9, 2022, the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova expressed herself similarly, “As usual, no clear evidence for these statements was provided. And it cannot be, because everything that the American representatives say is another lie from beginning to end, another example of the falsifications and speculations that the West spreads about Russia. They wanted to impose new sanctions – they found a reason”.
Interestingly, even such a notorious US propaganda publication as the Free Asia radio station, citing information from the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, noted that Washington’s claims that North Korea was secretly supplying missiles and shells to Russia “do not correspond to reality from beginning to end.” Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora stated in a recent interview with Russian media, “Moscow has not received and does not plan to receive any weapons or ammunition from North Korea, either directly or through intermediaries.”
On the other hand, the reaction of US experts on the DPRK, especially the well-known hawk Victor Cha, was quite telling. Although his interview was viewed as “critical questions”, there was no criticism or analysis of Kirby’s contributions. The United States has intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to track North Korean vessels, which means it has tracked everything and authorized the release of information to explain North Korea’s bad behavior to the international community in a situation where the Biden administration wants to avoid a potential conflict with North Korea as it focuses on strategic challenges from China.
Cha admits that “millions” may be an overestimate, but North Korea’s arms proliferation is nothing new. According to his “conclusion,” they allegedly sold almost every weapon system that they had ever developed. And in the case of Russia, the DPRK can also use arms deliveries as a means to write off accumulated debts. Therefore, pro-US experts see no contradictions in Kirby’s statements.
Unlike this author.
After all, if you remove the veil of big words, then US intelligence ASSUMES that a) the DPRK is supplying something somewhere, b) in fact, these are supplies to Russia. But there is no direct evidence for this thesis.
Why is that? In the author’s opinion, when in a difficult political situation some side has non-contrived evidence of the enemy’s guilt, it can safely post them in the public domain. Yes, their opponent can declare them fake, but those in the know will know. Here we are not even seeing the notorious “highly likely,” but the classic “we have secret evidence, but we won’t show it to everyone – you just need to believe in it.”
The reasoning behind “secret evidence” has three possible explanations.
There is no evidence at all, and we are dealing with a fake.
There is information that is considered evidence by the intelligence agencies, but it comes from such strange or invalid sources that its publication risks being ridiculed. However, if the authorities believe in the usual worldview, then any information that confirms that worldview will be considered valid regardless of the source.
There is evidence, but it is impossible to say how it was obtained, as it would reveal some important sources or technical possibilities. However, in such cases they generally prefer to hide the fact that “they know.”
In favor of the first explanation (fake) is the attempt to answer the hypothetical question, “If we imagine that the DPRK is really supplying arms to Russia in the quantities indicated, then HOW is it doing so under the current state of sanctions and its own quarantine measures?”. There is no air traffic between the two countries, the railroad just reopened after a two-year interruption, and note that satellites show how and where the train is going. North Korean-flagged ships are also monitored: after all, resolutions prohibit the export of weapons, whether they stay where they were delivered or go to Russia. Previous US allegations of sanctions violations typically included information about which ship was loading where. Thus, if a ship had arrived in the Middle East, the United States would have had no trouble identifying it, let alone the appearance of ships from the DPRK in the Russian Far East.
Therefore, the author feels Kirby’s statements are another propaganda ploy or a manifestation of what the author calls cartoon or comic book reality – a complete disregard for technicalities in favor of politics. If before the news of the class “North Korea poisoned Kim Jong Nam with weapons of mass destruction” or “North Korea supplied Russia with hundreds of thousands of shells and missiles” should have at least answered the question, “How exactly was this done?”, now that question is not being asked. Instead of going into detail and analyzing how technically possible certain actions are the analysis is replaced by ideas about how much “we” think “they” are capable of this. And if they are capable, they have done it, but it does not matter how. In comic books, no one questions where the main villain got the underground citadel in the center of the city that he built and operates unbeknownst to anyone, including housing and municipal services.
But if we apply the comic book logic, the explanation is obvious! As Russian military expert Vladimir Khrustalev said jokingly, if you accept that Kirby was not lying, it means only one thing: North Korean physicists have developed a teleportation machine and are delivering shells from the DPRK to the Russian Federation through a hole in space! Fortunately, the ability to “shorten distances” (ch’ukchippŏp) emerges in the North Korean narrative as something attributed to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-un, and the English translation of the song dedicated to it (The General Uses Warp) points the initiated directly to the source of the magical power. However, this also means an even more unfavorable situation for the United States: a country that masters such technology becomes a very unpleasant opponent, because with the help of a teleporter it is theoretically possible to bring a nuclear warhead to New York by opening a portal there.
Therefore, the authors should return from the world of comic books to the real world and think about this: The unfounded accusations of the Russian Federation and the DPRK, and in the future China, are aimed at their sanctioned isolation. But the more actively the United States and its satellites produce rogue states against the backdrop of a collapsing world order, the more likely it is that those rogue states will begin to trade with each other, ignoring Old World sanctions restrictions.
Does Washington really want such a “self-fulfilling prophecy” to come true?
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.