U.S. Sanctions Arms Trader Who Brokered Deal Between North Korea and Russia
The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned last week a Slovakian national for his attempts to facilitate arms deals between Russia and North Korea, as the Kremlin seeks to maintain its supply of weapons and munitions to its frontline troops in Ukraine.
Ashot Mkrtychev of Slovakia was blacklisted by U.S. authorities following revelations that he tried to supply Russian forces with North Korean weapons.
Since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion against Ukraine last February, a coalition of over 30 countries have established strict export controls to hinder Russia’s capability to re-arm its troops and support them with the latest military technologies.
“Russia has lost over 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since the start of the war,” said Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen. “And thanks in part to multilateral sanctions and export controls, Putin has become increasingly desperate to replace them.”
Yet in spite of its growing isolationism from the international community, there are still those who are willing to support—and profit off of—Putin’s campaign to forcefully pull Ukraine back into the Russian orbit.
Between the end of 2022 and early 2023, the Treasury said, Mkrtychev worked with North Korean officials to supply over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions for Russian troops. In exchange, goods such as commercial aircraft, raw materials, and other commodities were reportedly to be sent back to the DPRK.
He did this, officials said, by negotiating financial payments and barter arrangements between the two countries.
“Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK,” Yellen said. She further reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to “degrading Russia’s military-industrial capabilities” and to sanction any country that is prepared to support Putin’s attempts to take over Ukraine.
As an arms dealer with no allegiances to either side, Mkrtychev also provided DPRK officials with information from Russian officials, likely in an attempt to encourage North Korea’s approval of the sale, the Treasury said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken noted that this marks the first designation in the DPRK sanctions program in response to Russia’s attempt to secure weapons from North Korea.
Any arms deal with North Korea is a violation of U.N. resolutions which ban the DPRK from trading weapons with other countries.
Apart from Russia and Syria, North Korea is the only country to have recognized eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent territories.