A Slovak citizen, Ashot Mkrtychev, has been sanctioned by the US government for his role in attempted arms deals between Russia and North Korea. The US Treasury Department sanctioned Mkrtychev after checks revealed attempts by Russia to replace military equipment lost during its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, writes the department.
The materials involved comprised over 20 types of weapons and munitions for Russia that were to be supplied by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (i.e. communist North Korea) in return for commercial planes or other materials. Ashot Mkrtychev sought to benefit from both ends of the deal, according to the US Treasury Department. The exchange was supposed to take place in late 2022 and early 2023. The Slovak citizen’s assets in the US are now blocked.
The Slovak citizen told the tvnoviny.sk news website that he does not deal arms. He said he plans to ship food and medicine from Russia to North Korea. "I want to import flour, wheat, chocolate, some canned goods from Russia to Korea. The Russians used to export food to the West, but now they can't, that's why they have a surplus, so they want to sell it," Mkrtychev explained. No contract has been signed yet, he added.
Mkrtychev is now cut off from the US financial system according to US Treasury Department spokesperson John Kirby, the TASR newswire reported. “Now that his [Ashot Mkrtychev’s] activities have been exposed, he will face great challenges accessing the international financial system.” Any person that attempts to help Mkrtychev will also be liable to sanctions, Kirby added. The spokesperson did not clarify whether any of the purported trades between North Korea and Russia had actually occurred.
The Slovak claims that he has no assets in the US.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated that the Russian army has lost over 9,000 pieces of heavy military equipment since the start of its war in Ukraine. The overall sanctions directed towards Russia are making replenishing such resources more difficult for the country. “Schemes like the arms deal pursued by [Mkrtychev] show that Russian president Vladimir Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort.”
The Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry says it is preparing to investigate the case further in cooperation with the US Treasury Department.
Who is Mkrtychev?
The Denník N daily reported more details about the arms dealer’s identity. Ashot Mkrtychev is of Azerbaijani origin.
He has been at the centre of multiple cases in Slovakia already. A man of the same name was accused for allegedly ordering the murder of a competing arms dealer. However, a court in Prešov ultimately convicted Mkrtychev only on charges of obstruction of justice after the prosecutor failed to prove his alleged involvement in the murder. He was jailed but later freed in 2010.
The Slovak, a former Russian jet pilot, arrived in Slovakia in 1995. He obtained citizenship four years later. He used to live in Snina, eastern Slovakia, in the first years after arrival in the country.
Mkrtychev told the Markíza television channel that he has never dealt arms. However, the Korzár newspaper writes that he was authorised to trade weapons and military material. He received a licence from the ministries of defence and economy despite the fact that he was also prosecuted for running a criminal group and large-scale economic fraud.