Two Republican senators have expressed concern to the Biden administration over growing cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“We are troubled by reports that Russia and North Korea are strengthening their relationship, which will help [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Hagerty said in their letter dated Thursday.
“North Korea and Russia have recently agreed to send North Korean workers to areas of Ukraine seized by Russia,” their letter continues. “We also learned that Russia was trying to buy millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea.”
Rubio and Hagerty urged the Biden administration “to fully implement congressional and multilateral sanctions to increase pressure on the Kim regime.”
The senators sent the letter Thursday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Rubio is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Hagerty is a member of the Senate Banking Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.
In response to the senators’ letter, a State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Korea Service on Saturday that “it is important that the international community sends a strong and unified message that the DPRK must end its illegal actions, uphold its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, and engage in serious and sustained negotiations with the United States.”
North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The spokesperson continued, “The UN sanctions against the DPRK remain in place and we will continue to encourage all member states to implement them, including through diplomacy at the United Nations and with the DPRK’s neighbors. “.
VOA Korean Service contacted North Korea’s UN mission in New York to seek comment on the senators’ letter, but did not receive a response. The service also contacted the Russian embassy in Washington and its UN mission in New York, but received no response.
The UN Security Council has sanctioned North Korea for arms exports in several resolutions dating back to 2006, and in December 2017 it passed a resolution banning member states from hiring North Korean workers. in response to Pyongyang’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile a month earlier.
The United States and its allies and partners sanctioned Russia, barring it from the global financial system days after its Feb. 21 invasion of Ukraine.
After the setbacks of war, Moscow turned to Pyongyang for help.
In July, Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia that Moscow was willing to hire North Korean workers to rebuild the Russian-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk republics in the Donbass region.
On July 14, North Korea recognized the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.
According to the US State Department, Russia wants to buy rockets and artillery shells from North Korea because it lacks weapons.
At a press briefing on September 6, Vedant Patel, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said: “The Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of buying millions of rockets and shells from artillery to North Korea for use in Ukraine”.
He added: “This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages due in part to export controls and sanctions.”
Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya has said the US claim of Moscow buying arms from Pyongyang is “another fake”, according to Tass, a state-run news agency.
North Korea said on Thursday that it had “never exported arms or ammunition to Russia” and “did not plan to export any,” it said in a statement released by KCNA.
The North Korean statement did not mention sending workers to Donbass.
North Korea continued to say that it “never recognized” the “illegal UN Security Council sanctions resolutions” imposed on North Korea “that were concocted by the United States and their vassal forces”.
If Moscow hires workers and buys weapons from North Korea, it would violate the sanctions it imposed on the regime as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Such deals would also put North Korea in violation of sanctions aimed at preventing Pyongyang from earning much-needed hard currency to fund the development of nuclear missiles and ballistic missiles.