US announces new sanctions over North Korea-Russia arms transfers

By Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States announced sanctions on Thursday on two Russian individuals and three Russian companies for facilitating arms transfers between Russia and North Korea, including ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine.

It is the latest round of sanctions imposed by the Treasury and State departments to disrupt and expose arms transfers between the two countries, a Treasury Department statement said.

"Today's action reflects our commitment to disrupt the DPRK’s (Democratic People's Republic of North Korea) deepening military cooperation with Russia," Brian Nelson, the under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.

"The United States will continue to take action to hold accountable those who seek to facilitate the shipment of weapons and other materiel to enable Russia's war," Nelson added.

The statement said Russia and North Korea had strengthened military cooperation over the past year, with Pyongyang providing ballistic missiles and munitions to Russia and seeking military assistance in return.

The new sanctions were announced as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on Thursday to deepen their "strategic partnership" while scolding the United States, including over North Korea.

They also coincided with a U.S. announcement that it was seeking information about three North Korean workers linked to the Communist country's Munitions Industry Department and an American accomplice involved in a scheme to secure illicit IT work with U.S. firms and government agencies.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Russia had already used upwards of 40 North Korean-produced ballistic missiles against Ukraine, as well as munitions, importing them in contravention of United Nations resolutions.

He called the deepening North Korea-Russia relationship "a wide-ranging threat to global security and the international non-proliferation regime." He called on others in the international community to join the effort to counter it.

The Treasury statement said the individuals and firms targeted had attempted to evade sanctions by using front companies to move military equipment to support Russia's war in Ukraine

It named the individuals as Rafael Anatolyevich Gazaryan and Aleksey Budnev, and the firms as Trans Kapital Limited Liability Company, the Rafort Limited Liability Company and Tekhnologiya, OOO. It said Rafort is owned by Gazaryan while Budnev is the sole owner of Tekhnologiya.

The sanctions block all U.S. property and interests in property of those designated.

They follow on from similar actions last year that targeted an already sanctioned Slovakian national, Ashot Mkrtychev. The statement said Gazaryan likely acted as an intermediary between the Russian government and Mkrtychev.

Russia's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment and the firms and individuals could not immediately be reached.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; editing by Susan Heavey, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)