04.01.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Fake about North Korean aid to the Wagner PMC as an illustration of new “evidence” trends

It would seem that not long ago we touched on the intricate situation regarding rumors of North Korean or South Korean arms being supplied to the region of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, noting that there was no real evidence of either. Unfortunately, the situation is not evolving for the better and even those in the US establishment, who previously had refrained from making direct and unsubstantiated accusations, have begun to do so.

On December 22, 2022, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the DPRK had completed its initial arms delivery to Russia back in November, including infantry rockets and missiles: “We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment”. And while Washington does believe “that the amount of material delivered to Wagner will not change battlefield dynamics in Ukraine,” it is still “certainly concerned that North Korea is planning to deliver more military equipment.”

Kirby’s further statements reflected that, for him, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is taking place on some other globe. It turned out that Russian military officials report to the command of this PMC, which has 50,000 fighters. “It’s pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries”.  The Russian reader can only raise a restrained smile, which also applies to the idea that the PMC has not only heavy equipment, but also missiles and heavy artillery in its arsenal.

Nevertheless, Kirby said the US, along with its allies and partners, would raise the issue in the UN Security Council, as the North’s arms deliveries were a clear violation of sanctions resolutions and he promised new sanctions against the Wagner group. US Permanent Representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield also said that the US “intends to raise the DPRK’s and Russia’s violations of UN Security Council resolutions in future meetings of the Security Council and will share information of this violation with the Council’s 1718 Sanctions Committee.”

The ROK and Canadian foreign ministries joined in the condemnation. Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly stressed that the actions of Wagner and Pyongyang “clearly violate international law and United Nations Security Council resolutions.” South Korea’s foreign ministry also condemned the arms trade between North Korea and the PMC, saying it was detrimental to peace and stability in the international community in direct violation of the resolutions.

More interestingly, Stéphane Dujarric, the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, told a briefing that the UN had no information on possible arms deliveries from the DPRK to the Wagner PMC.  From the author’s point of view, this is a hint…

Equally interesting is that Kirby’s information was published almost exactly the same way a little earlier by the British media. Reuters quoted a senior US administration official as saying that the ammunition had been bought from the DPRK last month and delivered to Russia: allegedly the volume of shipments is not large enough to seriously affect military operations, but the US fears that this channel will continue to operate.

A little earlier, the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shinbun had reported that similar missiles were being supplied via the Hasan-Rajin railway.

And all this could not but prompt a comment from the DPRK Foreign Ministry, which on December 22 dismissed the manipulative report by the Japanese media as a completely clumsy and groundless PR stunt. The rest of the statement should be quoted as fully as possible:

“The DPRK remains unchanged in its principled stand on the issue of “arms transaction” between the DPRK and Russia which has never happened.

The international community will have to focus on the US criminal acts of bringing bloodshed and destruction to Ukraine by providing it with various kinds of lethal weapons and equipment on a large scale, rather than lending an ear to the groundless theory of “arms transaction” between the DPRK and Russia cooked up by some dishonest forces for different purposes.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to say that the Russian people are the bravest people with the will and ability to defend the security and territorial integrity of their country without any others’ military support”.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the owner of the Wagner PMC, also dismissed the allegation of North Korean supplies as “gossip and speculation”, and the author partly agrees with him: there is still no regular railway connection between North Korea and Russia. All the more so since the movement of trains across the border is monitored by US military satellites, among others.

The author also draws attention to the fact that the PMC has far less capacity to procure this type of weapons than the state does, because it would require additional time. Finally, if the PMC had received these weapons back in November, they would have already been used on the battlefields, which would have left an information trail.

This looks like another fake about North Korean shells, but for the author it is an excuse to talk about two additional things.

First, that accusations are very often based on the method of projection or, as the saying goes, the tongue ever turns to the aching tooth. And in this context, it is worth talking about a series of US pieces in the Western media which suggest that the “arsenal of democracy is depleting” and it is not Russia, but the “free world” which is having problems in supplying arms.

Second, although this version was first published by a British news agency and then voiced by Kirby himself, no evidence was produced. Meanwhile, the author reiterates a very important point: if you accuse your opponent and you have hard, irrefutable facts that incriminate them in some way, you can safely put them out there – without fear that some independent expert will discover that it was a poorly concocted fake. When someone says “we have secret evidence, but we won’t show it to you because it is a military secret”, this approach has been considered rotten since the Dreyfus affair.

The accusations concerning Moscow’s use of Iranian drones include at least debris that is structurally similar to Iranian designs. There is nothing in this case, and the Wagner PMC seems to be attached because it is today the most demonized armed formation having anything to do with Russia. Moreover, it also operates in the Middle East and Africa, which might have added credibility to the US claims, if there had been any specifics.

The use of accusations, however, which are not backed up by any semblance of credible evidence, did not begin with North Korean shells. One may recall the high-profile doping case in which the Russian side somehow allegedly tampered with urine samples in containers that were not supposed to be opened as per design. One may recall the poisonings of the Skripals or Kim Jong-nam when, in response to a direct question as to how exactly on the technical side the special operation had been carried out, there was no sane answer.

Rather than going into detail and sorting out the extent to which certain actions are technically possible, the analysis is substituted by notions of how capable we think “They” are of doing It. And if They could do it, then They did it, no matter how.

That said, such unsubstantiated information becomes a pretext for imposing sanctions of any level of severity – and this is an important criterion of a post-globalization world in which there is no longer any room for normal investigations and evidence. And this is a worrying sign, because now it is possible to use a fantastic accusation as a pretext for sanctions and if it is said from a high rostrum, the status of the one who said it is confirmation in itself: “How can we doubt the existence of Marquis of Carabas if the talking cat claims it?”

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.