Fact Check: Is North Korea Sending 100K Soldiers to Fight Against Ukraine?

As Russian forces struggle to make new gains in Ukraine amid intense fighting and reported low morale among its troops, Moscow has reportedly turned to its allies for support.

Since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, media and intelligence reports have claimed that Russia has received military support from Syria, some Kremlin-friendly African republics and Iran, which was reported to have supplied its combat UAVs to Russia (but has so far denied the claims).

North Korea is another close ally of the Kremlin, but recent media reports that Pyongyang is prepared to send a 100,000-strong army of "volunteer" soldiers to fight in Ukraine have raised some eyebrows.

Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ride an escalator following their talks at the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky island in the far-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. Media reports in August speculated that North Korea was prepared to send a "100,000 strong army of volunteers" to fight in Ukraine alongside the Russians. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

Dozens of media users claimed over the past few days that as many as 100,000 "volunteers" from North Korea were offered to Moscow for its military operation in Ukraine.

"Breaking: North Korea has just offered Russia 100,000 troops to help defeat Ukraine according to Russian state media," one tweet stated.

Others making the claim cited various articles, including one by a conspiracy theorist website Zero Hedge. Some of the posts appeared to cite Russian state TV.

The Facts

A number of news outlets published articles repeating the claim that 100,000 North Korean "volunteers" could be sent to fight for Russia in Ukraine, including Business Insider and the National Review.

Several of them cited a New York Post article, which appears to have been the first English-language outlet to have picked up the claim.

"North Korea has offered to send 100,000 soldiers to bolster Russia's invasion attempt in Ukraine, Russian state TV has claimed," the post article states.

As evidence, it includes a short segment from a Russia's state TV channel news show, in which defense pundit Igor Korotchenko says:

"There are reports that 100,000 North Korean volunteers are prepared to come and take part in the conflict."

The pundit also notes that North Koreans can aid in the "rebuilding" of Ukrainian towns and communities destroyed or damaged in the conflict, and praises their "wealth of experience with counter-battery warfare."

Korotchenko does not cite the source for his claim, which he made in a Thursday, August 4 broadcast, and there does not appear to be any public announcement by Moscow or Pyongyang to support it.

While some Russian outlets have repeated his claims after they were picked up by national and international news outlets, the only earlier mention of such "offer" and the "100,000" figure appears on report by the Russian news agency REGNUM, which the EU has accused of spreading "aggressive and biased propagandist narratives against Ukraine, and to promote a positive attitude to the annexation of Crimea and the actions of separatists in Donbas."

The article, dated August 2, cites a Russian MP, who referenced North Korea's "offer" to help in a speech in the Duma.

"I believe that this, without exaggeration, is an historic moment! Both in the foundation of the liberated Donbas republics, and in tightening our relationship with North Korea!" Sergei Mironov, an opposition party MP was cited as saying.

The article then goes on to state that "North Korea signaled via the diplomatic channels its willingness to support the defense of the Luhansk (LPR) and Donetsk (DPR) republics," including "readiness to send up to 100,000 of its soldiers to the Donbas," as well as to tighten trade ties with Russia.

"Pyongyang can send its tactical units to the Donbas; in return, it will receive grain and energy exports from the Republics," it concludes, without specifying how the authors gained access to the supposed diplomatic exchanges.

Similar unverified claims have also emerged over the past week on anonymous pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, including one called "The Kremlin Laundry," which similarly said that "diplomatic cables" from North Korea indicate it is prepared to "aid the Republics with military force consisting of volunteers," including the delivery of "100,000-strong combat battalions, as well as special tactical units."

Neither the REGNUM report, nor the anonymous Telegram channels provided any evidence for these claims. But in an example of how information laundering can occur, these unevidenced claims quickly spread and were amplified online by some Western media, which reshared them without proper sourcing or verification.

Korotchenko himself was later interviewed by Russian newspaper MK. He repeated the claim in the interview, but with some caveats.

"North Korea continues to demonstrate real support for Russia in conducting a special military operation," he said. "Let me remind you that it was one of the first to diplomatically recognize the sovereignty of the DPR and LPR, and since then has provided moral support to them. You can absolutely say that they are ready for this kind of hostilities. In general, the North Korean army has the highest morale and the same high efficiency."

"As for Kim Jong-un's offers to help, they are all made in line with broader support for Russia," the pundit continued.

"And if we agree to this proposal, then the DPRK will definitely send its people—there is no doubt about it. But here the question of political expediency arises. Will such a decision be made? I find it difficult to answer this question." Korotchenko concluded.

As Russia's close ally, North Korea has indeed voiced support for its actions in Ukraine, and even was one of the two nations (along with Syria) to recognize the illegally occupied Donbas republics' independence.

There has also been reporting, based on a claim by the Russian ambassador in Pyongyang, Alexander Matsegora, that North Korean workers maybe tasked with helping to "reconstruct Eastern Ukraine."

However, official Pyongyang has not made any public statements about sending, or being prepared to send, any troops or "volunteer" units to fight alongside the Russians. Neither Russian nor North Korean government officials have gone on record about any such plans or agreements either.

In a response to Newsweek's request for comment, the Russian foreign ministry directed us to a recent statement made by a representative of the Ministry, dismissing the claims as "fake."

"We recently noticed certain claims circulating on the Internet, amplified by certain bloggers and near-expert commentators about the alleged proposal by DPRK, sent through diplomatic channels, to send up to 100,000 of its volunteers to participate in a special operation in the Donbass.

"With regard to this claim, we would like to state with certainty that these messages are fake from start to end. Such negotiations are not ongoing and there are no plans to send North Korean volunteers to the DPR and LPR," Ivan Nechaev, a MFA spokesman, said in a press briefing on August 11, 2022.

Newsweek has reached out to the North Korean embassy in Russia for comment.

The Ruling

Fact Check - Mostly False

Unevidenced.

The claim that North Korea has, or plans to, send up to 100,000 "volunteer" soldiers to fight alongside the Russians in Ukraine appears to be mere speculation by a Russian TV pundit and an Russian opposition party MP, which was amplified by state news outlets and anonymous Telegram channels. While North Korean leadership has made advances to tighten economic and military ties with Moscow, it has not made any public announcements suggesting that deployment of its troops in Ukraine was imminent.

Update: 8/15/22 9.53 a.m. ET: The article was updated with a comment form the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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