Exclusive-US says Russia’s Wagner Corporation bought North Korean weapons for the Ukraine war

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An interior view shows the Wagner PMC Center, a project carried out by businessman and founder of Wagner private military group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block in Saint Petersburg, Russia, November

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia’s private military company, the Wagner Group, has received a shipment of weapons from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, a sign the group is expanding its role. during that conflict, a senior administration official said Thursday.

“We can confirm that North Korea has completed the initial delivery of weapons to Wagner, which has paid for the equipment. Last month, North Korea delivered rockets and infantry missiles to Russia for Wagner to receive. use,” the official told Reuters. incognito.

The US assessment, based on intelligence publicly disclosed on Thursday, is that the amount of material supplied by North Korea will not change the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, “but we are concerned that North Korea Tien is planning to supply more military equipment to Wagner,” the official said.

US officials believe the North Korean arms transfer is a direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and they plan to raise the matter with the Security Council. Weapons experts say Pyongyang has built ballistic missiles capable of hitting almost anywhere on earth, as well as short-range weapons.

The official said Russian President Vladimir Putin has increasingly turned to the Wagner Group, owned by ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, for help in Ukraine, where Russian forces have failed in an attempt to overthrow the Kiev government. .

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced new restrictions on technology exports to the Wagner Corporation in an effort to further cut supply to the contractor.

The official said further sanctions will be introduced in the coming weeks against the Russian company and its support team in countries around the world.

The official, who asked not to be named, said Russian businessman Prigozhin is spending more than $100 million a month to fund Wagner’s operations in Ukraine, but has run into problems recruiting Russians to fight there.

The United States estimates that Wagner has 50,000 employees deployed in Ukraine, including 10,000 contractors and 40,000 prisoners recruited from Russian prisons, the official said.

The Wagner Group, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, among other countries.

US intelligence indicates that Wagner played a key role in the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and inflicted heavy casualties there with about 1,000 Wagner fighters killed in recent weeks, most in Some of them are prisoners, the official said.

Inside Russia, Prigozhin’s influence is expanding, and “the group’s independence from the Russian Defense Ministry increased during the war in Ukraine,” the official said, without providing evidence.

“For months, the Russian military has relied on Wagner to lead combat operations in the Donbas regions – and in some cases, Russian military officials have actually depended on Wagner’s orders.” this official said.

In addition, Prigozhin criticized Russian generals and defense officials for their achievements in Ukraine.

“It is clear that Wagner is emerging as a center of power rivaling the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” the official said.

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