Russia purchasing military equipment from North Korea, US assesses

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, on April 25, 2019.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea to bolster its forces in Moscow’s war in Ukraine, according to Biden administration officials.    

A U.S. official told The Hill on Tuesday that the assessment, which is based on downgraded U.S. intelligence, is a sign of Moscow suffering from “severe” military supply shortages driven in part by export controls and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.  

The U.S. anticipates Russia purchasing more North Korean military equipment in the future, the official said, without providing additional details on what type of equipment. The New York Times was first to report on intelligence suggesting Moscow was buying North Korean equipment.  

Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder also confirmed the U.S. had “indications that Russia has approached North Korea to request ammunition.”

“I’m not able to provide any more detail than that at this point in time, but it does demonstrate and is indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in, in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine,” he said during a Tuesday press briefing.

“Certainly, as has been said, we assess that things are not going well on that front for Russia, the fact that they’re reaching out to North Korea is a sign that they’re having some challenges on the sustainment front.”

White House national security spokesman John Kirby later told reporters that the amount of rockets and artillery shells could number in the millions but said it was challenging to quantify at this stage.  

“We don’t have any indication that the purchase has actually occurred yet so it’s difficult to say what it’s actually going to end up looking like,” Kirby said.  

Russia has also turned to Iran to bolster its weapons stockpile. Biden administration officials said in late August that Tehran had transported its first shipment of Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series drones to Russia for use on the battlefield in Ukraine but cited information suggesting they have experienced mechanical failures.  

Meanwhile, the administration has warned China against assisting Russia and those efforts have thus far seemed to pay off. Kirby told reporters the U.S. has seen no evidence of Beijing taking “overt actions” to assist Russia militarily or otherwise violating U.S. sanctions on Moscow.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to deepen relations with North Korea, which is isolated due to international sanctions over its nuclear program, since Moscow invaded Ukraine.  

The United Nations currently bars Pyongyang from importing or exporting arms from or to other countries, meaning that the sale of rockets and artillery shells to Russia would violate that arms embargo.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has relied on billions of dollars in equipment from the U.S. and other nations to supplement its own military as it fights back against the Russian onslaught.  

Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine has stretched more than six months and shown no signs of winding down. Russia fell well below expectations in its military strength, failing to achieve its initial goal of capturing Kyiv.  

Updated: 4:42 p.m.

Ellen Mitchell contributed

Tags drones John Kirby Ministry of Defense North Korea russia Vladimir Putin
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