North Korea is shipping “significant” quantities of artillery shells to Russia to supports Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, the White House has claimed. Speaking the explosives, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US believes the Hermit State, led by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, is “trying to make it appear as though they’re being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.”
He refused to offer a specific estimate on the quantity of ammunition being sent to bolster the Russian effort but said it was being supplied “covertly”.
He added: “We’re still monitoring this to determine whether the shipments are actually received.”
Mr Kirby said the US has “an idea” of which country or countries the North may funnel the weapons through.
However, he declined to offer specifics because the administration is still weighing up its possible response.
The White House would not specify the mode of transportation or whether the US or other nations will attempt to intercept shipments to Russia.
The new intelligence was almost two months after first alleging US intelligence officials had determined the Russian Ministry of Defence was in the process of buying millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea.
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Even as the administration revealed information about the covert North Korean artillery shell shipments, the White House also downplayed their significance.
Mr Kirby explained: “We don’t believe that they are in such a quantity that they would change the direction of this war or tangibly change the momentum either in the east or in the south” where some of the heaviest fighting in Ukraine is taking place.
The revelation follows an announcement by the Biden administration in August said that the Russian military took delivery of hundreds of Iranian-manufactured drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine.
Iran has also sent personnel to Russian-controlled Crimea to provide technical support on operation of the drones, the White House claims, although Iranian officials have deny all involvement.
North Korea has sought to tighten relations with Russia as much of the West has pulled away, blaming the United States for the Ukraine crisis and decrying the West’s “hegemonic policy” as justifying military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself.
PyongYang has also shown interest in sending construction workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine’s east.
North Korea’s ambassador to Moscow has already met with envoys from two Russia-backed separatist territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine and expressed optimism about cooperation in the “field of labour migration,” emphasising his country’s easing of pandemic border controls.
In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognise the independence of the territories, Donetsk and Luhansk, further aligning with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.
The North’s arms export to Russia would be a violation of UN resolutions which ban the country from exporting to or importing weapons from other countries.
Its possible dispatch of labourers to the Russian-held territories in Ukraine would also breach a US resolution requiring all member states to repatriate all North Korean workers from their soil by 2019.
Separately, air raid sirens sounded on a South Korean island and residents evacuated to underground shelters after North Korea fired more than 20 missiles Wednesday, at least one of them in its direction and landing near the rivals’ tense sea border. South Korea quickly responded by launching its own missiles in the same border area.
The launches came hours after North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons to get the US and South Korea to “pay the most horrible price in history” in protest at ongoing South Korean-US military drills which it views as an invasion rehearsal.
The White House insists the United States has no hostile intent toward North Korea and has vowed to work with allies to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The North’s barrage of missile tests also came as world attention was focused on South Korea after a weekend Halloween tragedy which saw more than 150 people killed in a crowd surge in Seoul in what was the country’s largest disaster in years.