WASHINGTON - Two Republican senators have expressed concern to the Biden administration at the growing cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang over Russia's war in Ukraine.
'We are troubled by news reports that Russia and North Korea are strengthening their relationship, which will aid [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,' Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Hagerty said in their letter dated Thursday.
'North Korea and Russia have recently agreed to dispatch North Korean laborers to areas in Ukraine seized by Russia," their letter continued. "We also learned that Russia is attempting to purchase millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea.'
Rubio and Hagerty urged the Biden administration 'to fully enforce Congressional and multilateral sanctions to increase the pressure on the Kim regime.'
The senators sent the letter Thursday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Rubio is the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a senior member of the Committee on Foreign Relations. Hagerty is a member of the Senate Banking Committee and the Committee on Foreign Relations.
In response to the senators' letter, a spokesperson for the State Department told VOA's Korean Service on Saturday that 'it is important for the international community to send a strong, unified message that the DPRK must halt its unlawful actions, abide by its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions, and engage in serious and sustained negotiations with the United States.'
North Korea's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The spokesperson continued, 'U.N. sanctions on the DPRK remain in place, and we will continue to encourage all member states to implement them, including through diplomacy at the United Nations and with the DPRK's neighbors.'
VOA Korean Service contacted North Korea's U.N. mission in New York City requesting comment on the senators' letter but has not received a reply. The service also contacted the Russian embassy in Washington and its U.N. mission in New York City but has not received a reply.
The U.N. Security Council has sanctioned North Korea against exporting arms in multiple resolutions dating back to 2006, and in December 2017, it passed a resolution banning member states from hiring North Korean workers in response to Pyongyang's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile a month earlier.
The U.S. and its allies and partners sanctioned Russia, excluding it from the global financial system days after its Feb. 21 invasion of Ukraine.
After setbacks in the war, Moscow has turned to Pyongyang for support.
In July, Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia that Moscow was willing to hire North Korean workers to rebuild the Russian-controlled Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region.
North Korea recognized the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, on July 14.
According to the U.S. State Department, Russia wants to purchase rockets and artillery shells from North Korea as it runs short on weapons.
During a press briefing on Sept. 6, Vedant Patel, deputy spokesperson at the State Department, said, 'The Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use in Ukraine.'
He added, 'This purchase indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages due in part because of export controls and sanctions.'
Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya said that the U.S. claim of Moscow's arms purchase from Pyongyang is 'another fake,' according to Tass, a state-owned news agency.
North Korea said on Thursday it has 'never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia' and 'will not plan to export them,' it said in the statement released through KCNA.
The North Korean statement did not address sending workers to the Donbas.
North Korea continued to say it 'never recognized' the U.N. Security Council's 'unlawful sanctions resolutions' imposed against North Korea 'which was cooked up by the U.S. and its vassal forces.'
If Moscow hires workers and buys weapons from North Korea, it would be violating sanctions it imposed on the regime as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Such transactions would also put North Korea in violation of sanctions designed to prevent Pyongyang from earning much-needed hard currency to finance the development of nuclear missiles and ballistic missiles.