The United States has accused the Wagner Group, a private military company in Russia, of purchasing weapons from North Korea to be used in Ukraine. The strategic communications director at the National Security Council, John Kirby, said Wagner paid for and took delivery of a weapons shipment from Pyongyang in November.

US Accuses Russian Private Military Group of Buying Arms from North Korea

“We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment,” Kirby said on Thursday. “Last month, North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner.”

Kirby also said Wagner has about 50,000 paid mercenaries fighting in Ukraine to bolster the strength of the Russian army in the county. He said about 40,000 of these are convicts who were taken directly from Russian prisons, and that 10,000 are contractors. He added that Wagner’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, spends about $100 million each month to fund mercenary operations in Ukraine and that Wagner’s fighters have fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic, and Mali among other countries.

Kirby said Prigozhin is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that his ability to purchase weapons directly from North Korea signified his growing influence in the Kremlin. He added that there have been situations where top Russian officials in Ukraine are subordinated to Wagner troops since Prigozhin is expanding his influence since the Russian-Ukrainian war began.

“It’s all about how good he looks to Mr. Putin, and how well he’s regarded at the Kremlin,” Kirby said. “In fact, we would go so far as to say that his influence is expanding. It seems as though Mr. Prigozhin is willing to just throw Russian bodies into the meat grinder in Bakhmut. In fact, about 1,000 Wagner fighters have been killed in the fighting in just recent weeks, and we believe that 90% of those 1,000 fighters were, in fact, convicts.”

But Prigozhin denied Kirby’s allegations, describing them as mere speculations.

“Everyone knows that it’s been a long time since North Korea has supplied weapons to the Russian Federation,” Prigozhin disclosed on his Telegram channel. “And no other such attempts have even been made. Therefore, these arms deliveries from the DPRK are nothing more than gossip and speculation.”

The United States has blocked Wagner’s access to US technology exports and plans on imposing more sanctions on the Russian private military company in the next few weeks.