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UK Defense Ministry warns about North Korean munitions sent to Russia

According to Yonhap on October 27, 2023, the British defense ministry has expressed concerns regarding the potential arrival of North Korean munitions in western Russia, with suggestions that they may be intended for use in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Amid persistent speculations surrounding arms transfers, the British ministry stated that it is "almost certain" that North Korean munitions have been delivered to ammunition depots in western Russia.
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North Korean howitzers during a parade in 2023 (Picture source: KCNA)

Despite Russia's official denial of these reports, the British ministry maintains its assessment, asserting that these munitions are now supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine. Furthermore, the ministry has warned that should Pyongyang continue to send military-related shipments at the current pace, it could become one of Moscow's "significant" overseas arms providers, alongside Iran and Belarus.

The British defense ministry emphasized that the exact details of the agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang remain unclear. Still, it is believed that the package may encompass financial compensation, military technology provision, and cooperation in various areas, including space technology.

Concerns raised by the British defense ministry were echoed in Washington, on October 13, 2023, where a White House official disclosed alarming information regarding North Korea's delivery of more than 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia in recent weeks. The official, John Kirby, who serves as the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, highlighted the growing cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow, which he described as a threat to regional stability.

John Kirby expressed concerns about possible Russian assistance to North Korea in return for the arms support it received. He noted that the US had observed Russian ships offloading containers in North Korea, which could signify the initial deliveries of materials from Russia. In response to this expanding military partnership between North Korea and Russia, the US is considering a range of actions. These actions may include pursuing new sanctions against those facilitating arms deals between the two nations and raising the issue at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Seoul and Washington have underscored that any arms transfers between Pyongyang and Moscow would be in violation of UNSC resolutions that Russia itself has previously endorsed. The revelation of information regarding arms trade between North Korea and Russia appears to have a twofold purpose: to dissuade the two countries from engaging in further arms transactions and to caution other nations against providing arms support to Russia.

As reported by Army Recognition on October 13, 2023, there are lingering speculations about North Korea playing a role in replenishing the weapons inventory of the Hamas militant group, whose recent attack has sparked an escalating conflict with Israel. The United States has called upon both North Korea and Russia to cease their arms transfers, urging Russia to adhere to its obligations under the U.N. arms embargo on North Korea.

The international community has widely criticized this suspected arms agreement between North Korea and Russia. It's important to note that this agreement violates multiple United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions resolutions, which Russia itself has previously endorsed.

In a joint statement issued by South Korea, the United States, and Japan on October 26, 2023, the three nations issued a statement condemning North Korea's provision of military equipment and munitions to Russia, confirming that some of these weapons deliveries have taken place. The statement also expressed concerns over North Korea seeking military assistance from Russia to enhance its own military capabilities.

The three countries expressed deep concerns about the potential transfer of nuclear- or ballistic missile-related technology to North Korea, which could undermine global efforts to keep sensitive technologies out of the hands of those seeking to destabilize regional security.

The joint statement urged both North Korea and Russia to abide by relevant UNSC resolutions and immediately cease all activities that contravene them.

As reported by Army Recognition on October 9, 2023, a US official, speaking anonymously due to the absence of official announcements, conveyed that North Korea had initiated the transfer of artillery equipment to Russia. Many details surrounding this transfer remain uncertain, including whether it is part of a long-term supply chain or a more restricted delivery of weaponry. The terms and conditions of North Korea's receipt in return for these artillery pieces also remain undisclosed.

Simultaneously, the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report highlighting a substantial increase in rail traffic at North Korea's Tumangang Rail Facility, located near the Russian border. Satellite imagery captured on October 5, 2023, showed a proliferation of freight railcars at this facility. While the cargo's exact nature remains concealed due to the use of tarps to cover shipping crates and equipment, this surge in rail traffic is believed to be indicative of North Korea's supply of arms and munitions to Russia, a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

All these developments align with an article from Army Recognition, dated September 15, 2023, which indicated North Korea's intent to supply Russia with artillery systems and a large number of artillery shells. The article predicted that these deliveries were set to commence in October.

The North Korean army boasts an arsenal of around 21,000 artillery pieces, particularly large-caliber units such as 122mm and 152mm totaling approximately 8,500 units. Based on North Korean doctrine influenced by the Soviet Union, each of these artillery pieces is said to have a firing capacity of 45 days. With an estimated 75 shots per unit per day, North Korea is presumed to possess a stockpile of around 27 million 122mm/152mm shells. Consequently, North Korea could supply Russia with up to 10 million of these shells without significant difficulty.


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