US sanctions man accused of arms deal with North Korea and Russia

US says Russia has turned to countries like North Korea to replenish arms supplies depleted in its war with Ukraine.

Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow
The US Treasury says Russia has lost more than 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since it invaded Ukraine in 2022 [File: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]

The United States has announced sanctions against a Slovakian man who was reportedly working to arrange a weapons sale between North Korea and Russia, as the war in Ukraine puts strain on Moscow’s access to military goods.

The US Department of the Treasury said on Thursday that it was imposing sanctions on Ashot Mkrtychev as part of its effort to constrain Russia’s ability to replace military equipment lost on the battlefield.

“Russia has lost over 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since the start of the war, and thanks in part to multilateral sanctions and export controls, Putin has become increasingly desperate to replace them,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a news release.

“Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].”

Shortly after the sanctions were announced, the White House expressed concern that “North Korea will provide further support to Russia’s military operations against Ukraine”.

“We have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea,” national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. Such a deal would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, he added.

As Russia’s costly invasion of Ukraine has dragged on, the US has continued efforts to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically. However, Russia has benefited from continued relations with countries around the world who see it as an important ally and trading partner.

Yellen said the US would continue to crack down on Russia’s efforts to “evade sanctions and obtain military equipment” from countries like North Korea.

The news release states that Mkrtychev is a Slovakian national who negotiated with officials in Russian and North Korea to forge a relationship of “mutually beneficial cooperation”.

From 2022 to early 2023, the Treasury says that Mkrtychev arranged for North Korean officials to furnish “over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions for Russia”. In exchange, he worked to have commercial aircraft, raw materials and commodities delivered to North Korea.

North Korea is itself under heavy US sanctions, which can impact its ability to access various goods. The news release states that Mkrtychev’s negotiations were confirmed with senior Russian officials, indicating that “preparations for a proposed deal were complete”.

Thursday’s sanctions freeze any US-based assets held by the person designated and generally bar people in the US from having business dealings with them.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters