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Russia pledges COVID-19 vaccines for North Korea

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow has approached Pyongyang with an offer of COVID-19 vaccines. File Photo by Monika Graff/UPI
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow has approached Pyongyang with an offer of COVID-19 vaccines. File Photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

July 7 (UPI) -- Russia said it would donate COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment to "neighbor" North Korea, while dismissing speculation the Kim Jong Un regime was experiencing a surge of cases.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters Wednesday that Moscow is in talks with Pyongyang and a supply of vaccines is being offered, Tass news agency and Sputnik reported.

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"During our embassy's contacts with representatives of the North Korean leadership, we said on many occasions that we are ready to render the required assistance, if necessary," Lavrov said.

"Our humanitarian assistance in other forms is regularly delivered to our North Korean neighbors."

RELATED North Korea blasts 'interfering' foreign aid, as vaccines delayed

Lavrov suggested the decision to supply vaccines at the right time had no connection to a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in North Korea. Last week, Kim charged his subordinates with negligence that caused a "grave incident" related to COVID-19.

"From the very start of the coronavirus pandemic, the North Korean authorities took probably the harshest measures to isolate the country, and prevent the infection from finding the way inside," the top Russian diplomat said.

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"It is practically a total lockdown, which remains in place to date."

RELATED Russians flee North Korea amid COVID-19 concerns

But Russia also evacuated dozens of its citizens from North Korea last week, with its embassy in Pyongyang citing "difficult coronavirus times." The move came after the World Health Organization reported "severe acute respiratory infections" in the country.

Lavrov made no mention of any cooperation with South Korea, however.

In April, a senior South Korean politician requested Russia supply North Korea with Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines for humanitarian purposes.

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Gangwon Province Gov. Choi Moon-soon, a presidential candidate with the ruling Democratic Party, had said Moscow could "help improve inter-Korean relations" as an intermediary.

A consortium of South Korean biomedical companies is cooperating with Russia's sovereign wealth fund to manufacture Russia's vaccine, according to South Korean press reports.

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