We recently discussed how stories of North Korean weapons shipments to Russia were now being proven by saying things like, “Here’s a train with weapons on it; you can’t see them, but believe us, they’re inside.” But John Kirby, the coordinator of strategic communications for the National Security Council, showed that he was more than qualified. On March 30, 2023, he said:
- a) North Korea is working to send dozens of kinds of weapons and munitions to Russia to be used in the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine
- b) North Korea seeks to secure food supplies in exchange
- c) The potential arms deal is being arranged through a Slovakian arms dealer, identified as Ashot Mkrtychev, against whom the US Department of Treasury has imposed sanctions.
Kirby voiced fear “that North Korea will continue to back Russian military activities against Ukraine,” despite the lack of proof that North Korea sent huge quantities of ammunition to Moscow late last year.
Kirby emphasized that any arms deal between North Korea and Russia would directly violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the sale of weapons to and from the North.
What do we see when we look at it this way? The fact that the loud discourse of alleged deals was stated by an influential person should apparently be deemed evidence, and no more corroboration is required. Despite the fact that any clarifying inquiry of the class, “how exactly the DPRK sends such large quantities of weaponry to Russia,” leaves no stone unturned. As the author has already being ironic, Kirby is only credible if one believes the DPRK invented teleportation.
In reality, Defense Department Spokesperson Brigadier General While Pat Ryder tried to soften his tone, he was actually disputing what Kirby had said. According to him, “there currently was no indication that additional weapons or munitions have been delivered to Russia, but we continue to keep a close eye on it.”
An examination of the name of the US sanction recipient indicates the types of arguments Washington is employing to sever military ties between Moscow and Pyongyang.
To begin with, Mkrtichev was described as a “Slovakian citizen with Azerbaijani roots” in various Russian-language periodicals recognized by the Russian Federation as foreign agents (hence no references). This amount of investigation recalls an old joke about how to spell Iran or Iraq? Given the tense relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the fact that the person’s first and last names are both plainly Armenian makes us laugh.
But what was the mysterious Ashot up to? According to a press release from the US Department of the Treasury, Mkrtychev, 56, a resident of Bratislava, worked with DPRK officials between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 to buy more than two dozen weapons and ammunition for Russia in exchange for items like commercial airplanes, raw materials, and goods to be shipped to the DPRK. More precisely, he “might be involved in the organization of deals.” “Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK.” An individual has been sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control for seeking to arrange arms sales between Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Now the questions. First, it is not very clear who Mkrtychev is. If he had even a passing knowledge of the armaments trade, the US Treasury’s statement would have likely indicated this for propaganda purposes. This “no name” was going to organize an epic transaction on an epic magnitude. Therefore, how was he to supply commercial aircraft as opposed to a large quantity of raw materials and goods? The author would like to recall a few important details. First, the North continues to be isolated, and trade across the border with the DPRK occurs in a number of places that are tracked by satellites. On the Russian-DPRK border, for example, there is just a train bridge. Ships cruising around the DPRK that could be used to dodge sanctions are also being monitored, and the UN panel of experts report gives specific data on ships that often trade coal by turning off transponders and regularly accessing Chinese ports. Mkrtychev must possess the ability of a James Bond 007 secret agent in order to organize the aforementioned plot.
Now the question is, why do we need an obscure middleman from Slovakia for two countries who share a geographical border and direct diplomatic ties, even if Russia and North Korea are interested in backdoor deals? Previous Kirby’s stories were a little more realistic in such a context.
Furthermore, it is not at all evident from the American comments whether any of the deals Mkrtychev mediated were successfully executed. Yet, a failed attempt to do business with the DPRK, from an American perspective, should be penalized in the same way as a successful one, because intent is punishable…
This prompts the author to consider the following points.
As part of their so-called “open source intelligence” operation, the US deploys neural networks to search the unprotected Internet for relevant content using a keyword system, providing them access to data on a variety of forums or chat rooms. Therefore, it seems possible that American “intelligence” discovered a method of getting around the sanctions by compiling a list of a few pertinent statements. Added to that is a misunderstanding of the context, as previously stated, when the author of a telegram channel about the secrets of Russian domestic politics in general may be a schoolboy fantasist.
Finally, this situation reminds him of the preparation for a fraudulent plan, which he had recently encountered on multiple occasions. The fact is that various fraudsters periodically try to cash in on the situation of DPRK. Such people come in contact with North Korea, depict themselves as sympathetic to the country’s situation, and occasionally reach Pyongyang to be photographed with a number of important people. Then they come in contact with a “third party” and try to buy or sell anything while appearing as someone with the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and Kim Jong-un’s personal trust. As middlemen, they receive commissions for risky and difficult work, which accounts for the majority of their earnings when a deal fails for whatever reason, even though the scale closely resembles the American reports.
I would venture to guess that we have dealt with something similar. However, any fraud of this nature provides the US State Department with a good excuse to impose sanctions. Although it is unlikely that such a person will visit the United States, it is not difficult to add a new victim to the sanctions list.
In order to better keep track of them and to be more critical of the loud propaganda remarks, I want to highlight three points as I draw to a close another text regarding flaws in evidence.
- When a high-ranking individual states a fact, the evidence for that fact is not that it was uttered by the “respected person” but, at the very least, some other form of confirmation, like “Yesterday I was in a cab, and the driver told me that…” Even a mention of an unnamed but knowledgeable “expert” is better than none at all.
- When an act is offered to you, it makes sense to try to understand the technical intricacies of it because, usually, it is ignorance of the details that makes an act physically impossible. Consider “mortar shootings,” the exchange of urine samples stored in canisters that require identification to open, or the immeasurable amounts of armament shipments.
- Remember that fabricated stories follow specific literary canons when the story being presented is too evocative of a blockbuster storyline. Reality can also be unrealistic, but not in the same way as the proven plot. Provocation is indicated by overdramatization.
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.”