North Korea has been accused of covertly shipping ammunition to Russia to help its invasion in Ukraine. The US has claimed the dictatorship is smuggling a “significant number” of artillery shells to Russia, as the Kremlin appears to be increasingly turning to pariah states to shore up its ailing war effort. The White House’s national security spokesman John Kirby said it was not yet known if the ammunition had reached the warfront, but claimed North Korea was obfuscating their delivery by sending it through other countries. North Korea has denied the claims.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Kirby said: “Our indications are the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea] is covertly supplying and we’re going to monitor to see whether shipments are received. Our information indicates that they’re trying to obscure the method of supply by funneling them through other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.”
He added that they did not believe the munitions would “change the course of the war.”
When pressed, Mr Kirby did not say how the weapons were being transported, or if the US intended to try and intercept them.
The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, added at a news conference on Wednesday that the United States would use “every tool” to enforce existing sanctions against North Korea.
He said it would “look at additional tools and authorities that we may be able to call upon to counter this activity.”
Mr Price went on to urge countries with diplomatic ties to North Korea to apply pressure on its government to not provide weapons to Russia. On September 21 North Korea denied similar allegations, with an official at the North Korean Defense Ministry’s General Bureau of Equipment stating: “We have never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before, and we will not plan to export them.”
The revelations follow concerns that Iran may be shipping drones and surface-to-surface missiles to prop up the invasion as well. If accurate, these accusations would mean Iran was violating a UN resolution forbidding the sale of weapons from the country.
They also may be more of a threat than those being supplied by North Korea.
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Ian Williams, deputy director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “What North Korea is providing to Russia is older, unguided artillery shells. So, the kind that you essentially fire just based on the ballistic trajectory, and it will kind of land where it may. You need a lot of them to really have an impact.
“But if you’re just firing them indiscriminately into a civilian area, or you’re just trying to blanket a large area, it can suffice in certain circumstances.”
However, he added he was “actually more concerned with what the Iranians are doing.”
Mr Williams explained that the long-range missiles and drones provided by Iran have been used to devastating effect in attacking civilian infrastructure and spreading panic.
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Mr Kirby said that Putin’s willingness to turn to allies like North Korea and Iran indicate both the deteriorating state of his assault in Ukraine, and his determination to see it through.
Mr Williams added that there may be an emotional element, saying: “My belief is that Russia has lost this war, and they are just like the Germans in World War II, continuing to fire V1s and V2s at London. By the end, it was not for any strategic purpose. It was just vengeance and trying to make the British people suffer.”
North Korea remains in a state of war with South Korea, even though formal hostilities ended nearly 70 years ago – although last Wednesday saw Kim Jong-Un launched at least 23 missiles into the sea, some aimed towards its southern neighbour.
At a meeting of international policy experts in Moscow last week Putin displayed immense hypocrisy in condemning South Korea for supplying weapons to Ukraine and commenting how awful it would be for Russia to trade weapons with North Korea – all while, as this new intelligence would suggest, he had already set plans in motion to do exactly that.
He said: “We have learned now that the Republic of Korea has decided to supply weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. This will be destroying our relations. How would the Republic of Korea behave if we resumed cooperation with North Korea in this area? Would you feel happy about this?”