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North Korea Kept Ukraine Invasion Secret to All Except Ruling Party Members

FILE - People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on Feb. 27, 2022,
FILE - People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on Feb. 27, 2022,

North Korean authorities waited days to tell the nation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, first informing only members of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party in private meetings, who later spread the word, government officials told RFA.

In North Korea’s one-party state, membership in the Workers’ Party is reserved for the privileged or for exemplary soldiers who complete long mandatory stints in the armed forces.

The Russian military began its large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, but it wasn’t until two days later that Pyongyang told the party members.

“Yesterday, each regional party committee in the province informed all the party members that our strong ally Russia was at war,” an official from the northwestern province of North Pyongan told RFA’s Korean Service on Feb. 27.

“International relations are strained with Russia at war, so the regional party committee demanded that everyone be ready to be mobilized at all times,” the source said.

The Soviet Union helped establish North Korea in 1948 after occupying the northern half of the Korean peninsula following Japan’s defeat in World War II, installing as leader the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia moved in 2000 to revitalize ties with Pyongyang that had fallen off with the USSR’s collapse.

The central party leaders delivered the Ukraine news to each provincial party committee, ordering them to tell party members at their weekly meeting, where they confess political errors and reaffirm their commitment to be loyal to the country and its leaders.

“The news came privately during self-criticism on Saturday,” said the source. “The party members were told to be ready to mobilize at any time.”

The party members were not surprised, but still wondered why the authorities were keeping news of the invasion private, according to the source.

“The party members, of course, already knew from their Chinese acquaintances … that war had begun, but they were more interested in what caused Russia to invade Ukraine,” the source said.

After the news was broken to party members in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, it began spreading rapidly among the public, a resident there told RFA.

“They not only stated that Russia is at war, they also ordered us to be prepared to enter into war immediately under any circumstances,” said the second source.

“In response, some residents showed a radical reaction, saying they wish that war would break out and this disgusting system we are living under would come to an end,” the second source said.

The second source said that some residents recognize the hypocrisy of the government siding with Russia while it invades an independent country.

“The authorities are always quick to criticize the United States as an aggressor, repeatedly asserting the independence of Korea, and the U.S.’ interference in our internal affairs,” the second source said, referring to Washington’s military presence in South Korea, which North Korea considers to be an occupation of its sovereign territory.

“That is why they are watching the government’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The state-run Korea Central News Agency reported Monday that a spokesperson for North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the U.S. and other Western countries for war breaking out in Ukraine.

“The U.S. and the West, in defiance of Russia's reasonable and just demand to provide it with legal guarantee for security, have systematically undermined the security environment of Europe by becoming more blatant in their attempts to deploy attack weapon system [sic] while defiantly pursuing NATO's eastward expansion,” the spokesperson said according to KCNA’s English version of the report.

“Having devastated Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, [they] are mouthing phrases about ‘respect for sovereignty’ and ‘territorial integrity’ over the Ukrainian situation which was detonated by themselves. That does not stand to reason at all,” the spokesperson said.

Though it was the first official statement on Ukraine by Pyongyang, two days earlier a commentary published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed Washington and its allies for “high-handedness and arbitrariness that are shaking international peace and stability at the basis,” as rendered in the English version of the commentary.

Penned by researcher Ri Ji Song, it said that the U.S. was disregarding Russia’s demands for security and “unilaterally” expanding NATO to cause an imbalance of military power in Europe.

“The U.S embellishes its own interference in internal affairs of others as ‘righteous’ for peace and stability of the world, but it denounces for no good reason self-defensive measures taken by other countries to ensure their own national security as ‘injustice’ and ‘provocation,’" wrote Ri.

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    Radio Free Asia operates under a Congressional mandate to deliver uncensored, domestic news and information to China, Tibet, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, among other places in Asia with poor media environments and few, if any, free speech protections.