North Korea condemned the decision by the United States to supply Ukraine with advanced battle tanks to help fight off Russia’s invasion, saying Washington is escalating a sinister “proxy war” aimed at destroying Moscow.
The comments by the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un underscored the country’s deepening alignment with Russia over the war in Ukraine as it confronts the United States and its Asian allies over its own growing nuclear weapons and missiles program.
It has also used the distraction created by the war to accelerate its own weapons development, test-firing more than 70 missiles in 2022 alone, including potentially nuclear-capable weapons believed able to target South Korea and the US mainland.
The United States has accused North Korea of sending large supplies of artillery shells and other ammunition to Russia to support its offensive in Ukraine, although the North has repeatedly denied the claim.
Kim Yo Jong’s comments, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, came after US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the United States will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing months of arguments by Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision followed Germany’s agreement to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks.
Kim said the Biden administration was “further crossing the red line” by sending its main tanks to Ukraine and that the decision reflects a “sinister intention to realise its hegemonic aim by further expanding the proxy war for destroying Russia.”
“The US is the arch criminal which poses serious threat and challenge to the strategic security of Russia and pushes the regional situation to the present grave phase,” she added.
“I do not doubt that any military hardware the US and the West boast of will be burnt into pieces in the face of the indomitable fighting spirit and might of the heroic Russian army and people,” she said, adding that North Korea will always “stand in the same trench” with Russia.
North Korea is the only nation other than Russia and Syria to recognise the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, and has also hinted at plans to send workers there to help with rebuilding efforts.
The Biden administration on Thursday also expanded US sanctions against Russia’s Wagner Group and related companies and individuals for their role in the war in Ukraine and mercenary activities, including human rights abuses, in Africa.
The Treasury and State departments announced the moves in coordinated statements that target dozens of Wagner Group affiliates, including some in the Central African Republic and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the president of Russia‘s Kalashnikov Concern, the original manufacturer of the AK-47 assault rifle.
The sanctions also hit the Chinese company Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co. LTD, also known as Spacety China, which has supplied Wagner Group affiliates with satellite imagery of Ukraine that support Wagner’s military operations there. A Luxembourg-based subsidiary of Spacety China was also targeted.
The announcements re-designate the Wagner Group, a private Russian military group owned by a close associate of President Vladimir Putin, as a “significant transnational criminal organisation.” The firm had already been identified as such but the re-designations expand the sanctions.
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The sanctions freeze any assets those identified may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from conducting business with them by adding a number of affiliates to American blacklists.
“As sanctions and export controls on Russia from our international coalition continue to bite, the Kremlin is desperately searching for arms and support — including through the brutal Wagner Group — to continue its unjust war against Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“Today’s expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin’s ability to arm and equip his war machine,” she said.
A total of eight people, 16 companies and four specific aircraft were sanctioned by Treasury. In addition, the State Department imposed separate but related sanctions on five companies and one person linked to the Wagner Group and 23 others for being part of Russia‘s military-industrial complex.