One of the many downsides of launching a disastrous and poorly-planned genocidal invasion is that, all of a sudden, ten months have passed and that “special military operation” you thought would be over in a matter of days is bleeding your country dry and your list of international friends and supporters is a who’s who of the shadiest countries on the planet.

 And so it was sadly inevitable that, at some point, those fighting for Russia would be accused of turning to the ultimate pariah state and sponsor of terrorism, North Korea.

 What’s the accusation?

 According to U.S. officials, North Korea is now providing weapons to Russia's private military group Wagner. If you’re not familiar with Wagner, there’s more background later in this article but – in a nutshell – they’re a private army independent of the Kremlin’s armed forces with a reputation for stirring up trouble and committing atrocities all over the world, including in Ukraine.

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 On Dec. 22, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said North Korea had sold infantry rockets and missiles to Wagner last month, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

 "Wagner is searching around the world for arms suppliers to support its military operations in Ukraine," Kirby told reporters. "We can confirm that North Korea has completed an initial arms delivery to Wagner, which paid for that equipment," he said.

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 That sounds like bad news for Ukraine?

 In a sense, yes – the more weapons Wagner has, the better it can fight. But on the other hand, it’s a sign of desperation that those fighting for Russia are having to turn to North Korea to source the weapons they need.

 As you’ll no doubt be aware, Russia is already sourcing kamikaze drones and cruise missiles from Iran, another state sponsor of terrorism.

 While backing up the U.S allegations against Wagner and North Korea, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, said: "The fact that President (Vladimir) Putin is turning to North Korea for help is a sign of Russia's desperation and isolation.

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 "We will work with our partners to ensure that North Korea pays a high price for supporting Russia's illegal war in Ukraine."

 Strong words, but what are they going to do about it?

 The U.S. and U.K. have said they will boost sanctions against Wagner but this is unlikely to stop weapons supplies.

 And, as has already been reported, Russia and Iran are looking to build a drone factory on Russian soil, meaning a possible plentiful supply of the weapons that the Kremlin is using so effectively to target Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure.

 Anything else I need to be aware of?

 Yes. Kirby also made a point of highlighting the fascinating rise of Wagner, calling the mercenary enterprise a "rival" for power to the defense and other ministries in the Kremlin.

 According to Kirby, the group, which is independent of the Russian defense establishment and is leading a bloody siege of Bakhmut, Ukraine, is spending more than $100 million each month on its Ukraine operations.

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 "Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries," Kirby said.

 Obviously, this could have massive implications for future power-struggles in the Kremlin as well as the overall course of the war in Ukraine.

 OK. Tell me more about why North Korea is so important to Russia’s actions in Ukraine?

 Kirby told reporters in early November that North Korea is “covertly supplying Russia’s war in Ukraine with a significant number of artillery shells, while obfuscating the real destination of the arms shipments by trying to make it appear as though they’re being sent to countries in the Middle East or north Africa.”

 It is noteworthy that the secretive state produces the same calibre of weapons for its own variants of Soviet-era systems and holds large stockpiles.

 Added to that, Joseph Dempsey, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, explained earlier this year that North Korea “may represent the single biggest source of compatible legacy artillery ammunition outside of Russia, including domestic production facilities to further supplies.”

 And who exactly are the Wagner group?

 The Wagner group is controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman once called "Putin's chef" for his catering business hosting dinners which Putin attended with foreign dignitaries.

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 A vocal critic of the Russian defense establishment's handling of the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin, 61, runs a number of diverse businesses out of his Concord Catering group in St. Petersburg, AFP reports.

 One is the Internet Research Agency, the notorious St. Petersburg internet "troll farm" that conducted a massive online operation to interfere with the U.S. elections to help then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.

 For that, Prigozhin and several others in the operation were indicted in the U.S. in 2018. Just last month, he boasted of the operation: "We interfered, we are interfering, and we will interfere," he said.

 He has also been hit with U.S. and European Union (EU) sanctions several times, particularly for Wagner group activities.

 The mercenary-like army has been carrying out operations – ostensibly private but implicitly approved by the Kremlin – in Syria, Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic and other countries in Africa. In several locations they have been accused of participating in atrocities.

 These include taking part with government forces in the massacre of 300 civilians in Moura, Mali in March 2022.

 In Ukraine, the group has served as an elite special forces-type operation that has better training, equipment and supplies than the mainstream Russian military.

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 Prigozhin himself reportedly dubbed the intense fight in Bakhmut a "meat grinder," saying it would destroy the Ukrainian army.

 But Wagner itself has taken significant casualties, and Prigozhin has relied on prisons to supply Wagner with convicts to fill out its ranks. Kirby estimated that the Wagner force now numbers about 50,000, including 10,000 skilled "contractors" and 40,000 convicts.

 In Bakhmut and other areas of heavy fighting, Ukraine’s forces say the relatively untrained convicts have been forced to the front, where many have been killed or injured.

 According to U.S. information, Kirby said 90 percent of the estimated 1,000 Wagner fighters killed in the fighting in recent weeks were convicts.

 "It seems as though Mr. Prigozhin is willing to just throw Russian bodies into the meat grinder in Bakhmut," he said.

 Kirby said Prigozhin appeared more interested in "influence peddling at the Kremlin" than protecting his troops.

 "For him, it's all about how good he looks to Mr. Putin, and how well he's regarded at the Kremlin," Kirby said.

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