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British intel: North Korea on course to become Russia’s major arms supplier alongside Iran, Belarus

As per UK intelligence, North Korean munitions have reached Russian depots, potentially making North Korea a significant arms supplier to Russia, supporting their military operations in Ukraine.
Mulriple artillery pieces at North Korea’s “Combined Fire Demonstration” held to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the North Korean army, in Wonsan, North Korea, in April 2017. Screenshot: North Korea’s KRT, via AP.
British intel: North Korea on course to become Russia’s major arms supplier alongside Iran, Belarus

In its 26 October Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine, the British Defense Ministry reported the presence of North Korean munitions in western Russian ammunition depots. These depots play a crucial role in supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine, placing North Korea in a position to become one of Russia’s most significant foreign arms suppliers.

The ministry noted that if North Korea maintains its current scale and pace of military-related shipments, it could soon stand alongside major suppliers like Iran and Belarus.

The UK Defense Ministry tweeted:

  • Despite Russia’s official rejection of recent reports, it is almost certain that North Korean munitions have now reached ammunition depots in western Russia. These depots support Russian military operations in Ukraine.
  • If North Korea sustains the recent scale and pace of military-related shipments (more than 1,000 containers over the last several weeks), it will be on course to become one of Russia’s most significant foreign arms suppliers, alongside Iran and Belarus.
  • It is currently unclear what Russia has agreed to provide North Korea in return. It is unlikely the full package has been finalised; it was highly likely one of the primary discussion topics during recent senior level Russian visits to North Korea. It will likely include a mixture of financial compensation, other economic support, the provision of military technology, and cooperation on other high technology areas, such as space.

North Korean supplies of ammunition to Russia were previously highlighted by various sources, including the US, South Korean, and Ukrainian officials. The first reports regarding such arms transfers emerged in 2022.

  • On 17 October, the US Special Representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, expressed concerns over alleged arms shipments from North Korea to Russia, terming these transfers as “dangerous” and the North Korea-Russia ties “very worrying.”
  • Earlier, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby stated the US had intelligence that North Korea had recently shipped Russia over 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to be used in its war against Ukraine, expecting to receive heavy weapons from Russia in return.
  • Satellite imagery captured on 5 October and analyzed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies indicated the flow of rail traffic between North Korea and Russia, with the number of freight railcars totaling approximately 73.
  • Earlier, referring to US intelligence sources, the Economist reported that North Korea had supplied Russia with 152-mm shells and missiles for multiple rocket launchers for about a year.
  • In September, an unnamed South Korean senior presidential official and the Ukrainian military intelligence chief confirmed that Russian forces already used North Korean-supplied ammunition in Ukraine.
  • According to media reports, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un planned to discuss more arms supplies for Moscow during his visit to Russia in September.
  • In December 2022, John Kirby stated that the Wagner Group Russian private military company took delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine.
  • In November, the US accused North Korea of secretly supplying Russia with artillery shells for the Ukraine war by concealing where they were being transported to.


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