U.S. satellite photos appear to have captured images of Russian railcars traveling between North Korea and Russia, carrying weapons to supply Russian forces in their ongoing war in Ukraine.
In a Friday press briefing, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that as a result of international sanctions and export controls, Russia has been searching for arms and ammunition from friendly foreign countries. Kirby said North Korea has stepped forward as one of those friendly suppliers.
Kirby said part of the scheme to supply Russia with arms and ammunition entails North Korea sending the weapons to the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company.
“We have seen North Korean officials falsely deny that they have provided arms to Wagner. As we have said publicly North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner toward the end of last year,” Kirby said. “So today, we are releasing some imagery of this initial delivery.”
Kirby shared a set of satellite images taken on Nov. 18, 2022, appearing to show the Russian railcars on the move.
Satellite images purporting to show railcars traveling between North Korea and Russia. (White House/Released)”While we assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics and Ukraine we do expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapon systems,” Kirby said. “We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately.”
Kirby also said the U.S. Department of Treasury would designate Wagner as a significant transnational criminal organization on Friday and that the U.S. would impose additional sanctions on Wagner in the coming days.
Kirby said the U.S. had also raised the issue of these arms shipments with the United Nation’s Security Council’s North Korean Sanctions Committee. He said no new sanctions have been imposed against North Korea but “we’re certainly not gonna rule out the possibility for additional sanctions if that’s deemed fit inside the U.N.”
North Korea would not be the first country to extend support to Russia in its war in Ukraine. Iran has also supplied drones, such as Shahed-136 loitering munitions, to Russian forces.
North Korea’s move to supply Russia with weapons through the Wagner Group also underscores the mercenary force’s expanding involvement in military operations in Ukraine.
“As his military continues to struggle in Ukraine, President Putin is increasingly turning to Wagner, which is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, ror military support,” Kirby said.
Kirby said the U.S. is seeing indications that tensions are growing between the Wagner Group and the Russian Ministry of Defense and that Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries.