Over the past several days, there have been reports suggesting that North Korea (DPRK) will send some 100,000 volunteers to aid in Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, specifically in the Donbas region. While prospects of cooperation in regards to infrastructure repair have been brought up, there is no indication this would involve combat engagement.
The origin of this was first brought up by Russian defense commentator Igor Korotchenko, who stated on the state-owned Channel One that “There are reports that 100,000 North Korean volunteers are prepared to come and take part in the conflict,” adding “If North Korea expresses a desire to meet its international duty to fight against Ukrainian fascism, we should let them.” So far there has not been any official statements by either Russia or North Korea to verify this statement.
The claims, however, do come weeks after the DPRK recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) from Ukraine on July 13. The official recognition paves the way for political and economic cooperation between the DPRK and separatist states.
While meeting with the North Korean Ambassador to Russia on July 29, DPR ambassador to Russia Olga Makeeva “discussed in detail the possibility of further cooperation in all sectors of the national economy: industry, agriculture, construction, trade, healthcare, education, culture, and others,” according to a release by the DPR Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Likewise, Ambassador Sin Hong Chol told Makeeva that “after the opening of the borders of the DPRK and the lifting of covid restrictions, relations with the DPR will have great potential in the trade and economic direction and in the field of labor migration. The DPRK is already ready to consider cooperation projects in order to immediately begin their implementation after the opening of the borders.”
In a July 18 interview with Russian state-owned media outlet Izvestia, Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Alexander Matsegora suggested that North Korean laborers could be used in reconstruction efforts in Donbas, which were likely the reports Korotchenko was referring to.
Matsegora stated “There are prospects for cooperation between the DPRK and the Donbass republics, and they are quite extensive. Firstly, highly qualified, hardworking and ready to work in the most difficult conditions, Korean builders will be a very serious help in solving the problems of restoring social, infrastructure and industrial facilities destroyed by the retreating Ukronazis.”
He also stated that the DPRK and the separatist states would benefit from cooperation from an industrial infrastructure angle, noting that “almost all enterprises of ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy, transport engineering and electric power industry built in the DPRK with Soviet technical assistance still remain in operation” with equipment produced by enterprises located in Donbas. He added that “Korean partners are very interested in the spare parts and units manufactured there, in updating their production base.”
When asked why the DPRK recognized the DPR and LPR, Matsegora said “The DPRK leadership considers the struggle of the people of Donbass against Bandera power to be fair, and the Kiev regime to be puppets of Washington, which, without sparing the blood of the Ukrainian people, solves its geopolitical problems in the context of pressure on Russia. Therefore, she does not face a question of who should be supported.”