US slaps sanctions on man seeking to sell N.Korean arms to Russia

By Daphne Psaledakis and Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. on Thursday said it had imposed sanctions on a Slovakian man for trying to arrange the sale of over two dozen types of North Korean weapons and munitions to Russia to help Moscow replace military equipment lost in its war with Ukraine.

The action, which comes as Washington warned that Russia is seeking to acquire additional weapons from North Korea, is the latest in a series of sanctions the U.S. has imposed targeting Moscow and its attempts to obtain military equipment. The conflict in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands and reduced many cities to rubble.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement it had imposed sanctions on Slovakian national Ashot Mkrtychev “for having attempted to, directly or indirectly, import, export, or re-export to, into, or from the DPRK any arms or related materiel.”

Between the end of 2022 and early 2023, Mkrtychev worked with North Korean officials to obtain over two dozen kinds of weapons and munitions for Russia in exchange for materials ranging from commercial aircraft, raw materials and commodities to be sent to North Korea, the Treasury said.

It said Mkrtychev’s negotiations with North Korean and Russian officials “detailed mutually beneficial cooperation,” adding that Mkrtychev confirmed Russia’s readiness to receive military equipment from North Korea with senior Russian officials.

There have been reports of growing food shortages in North Korea, although North Korea has denied suggestions that it cannot provide for its citizens.

Thursday’s move freezes any of Mkrtychev’s U.S. assets and generally bars Americans from dealing with him. Those that engage in certain transactions with him also risk being hit with sanctions.

Russia’s embassy in Washington and North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mkrtychev could not immediately be reached for comment.

The White House later on Thursday warned that the United States has new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional weapons from North Korea in exchange for food aid.

“We remain concerned that North Korea will provide further support to Russia’s military operations against Ukraine,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. “And we have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea.”

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis, Trevor Hunnicutt and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Josie Kao and Leslie Adler)