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The Washington Post: New data shows North Korea transporting large amounts of munitions to Russia

The data, obtained by the global security nonprofit C4ADS and provided to The Washington Post, covers shipments from August through January and shows that more than 74,000 metric tons of explosives were distributed from two ports in Russia’s Far East to 16 sites mainly along the country’s western borders near Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, illustrative image. Photo via Eastnews.ua.
Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, illustrative image. Photo via Eastnews.ua.
The Washington Post: New data shows North Korea transporting large amounts of munitions to Russia

A new analysis of internal Russian trade data illuminates how shipments of suspected North Korean munitions were distributed through Russia.

The data, obtained by the global security nonprofit C4ADS and provided to The Washington Post, covers shipments from August through January and shows that more than 74,000 metric tons of explosives were distributed from two ports in Russia’s Far East to 16 sites mainly along the country’s western borders near Ukraine.

That weight is equal to about 1.6 million artillery shells of the type Russia has used in the war. In addition, these shipments were labeled as “ammunition” at their destinations, even though the documentation stated the shipments contained ”explosives”.

North Korea is not directly indicated as the country of origin of these cargoes, but their departure from port cities in the Far East coincides with the time of call there of ships arriving from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D​PRK).

The publication notes that this is serious indirect evidence of munitions shipments from the D​PRK to Russia, which have been repeatedly mentioned in the West. “This is the closest thing to proof of Russian-North Korean connection when it comes to munitions transfers, and this proves that the Russians and North Koreans were lying” in denying the transfers, said Go Myong-hyun, senior research fellow at Seoul’s Institute for National Security Strategy, which is affiliated with South Korea’s intelligence agency.

“It really gives more credibility to the fact that North Korea is helping Russia to conduct its war in Ukraine,” Go said. “Unless we have photos, or the North Koreans say, ‘Look, we’ve been transferring shells to Russia,’ or something like that, this is the best we can get.”

Analysis of satellite imagery and marine traffic data by The Washington Post and C4ADS shows that Russian-flagged vessels linked to the country’s military were docked in the North Korea port of Rajin and then later at the Russian ports of Vostochny and Dunai. Most of the explosives departed to sites in Russia within a week of arrival, according to the data.

These vessels — the Lady R, the Angara, the Maria and the MAIA-1 — are owned by Russian companies closely linked to the country’s military. While it is impossible to verify exactly what the ships were carrying, the United States and South Korea have previously publicly named the four vessels as involved in transporting North Korean weapons to Russia based on satellite imagery and press reports.

The shipments went to 16 sites across Russia, 12 of them near known ammunition storage facilities, according to the trade data, which C4ADS obtained from a person with access to documentation in the Russian transportation and logistics industry, whom The Washington Post is not identifying due to safety risks. This indicated to experts that these explosives were likely to be munitions.

North Korea providing assistance

Recently, Putin and Kim Jong Un signed a defense agreement that requires their countries to provide immediate military assistance if either is attacked.

Furthermore, Putin threatened South Korea, by stating that Moscow “will (…) (make) decisions which are unlikely to please the current leadership of South Korea” if Seoul decides to send arms to Ukraine, Putin said.

The Russian leader also warned that Moscow is planning to arm Pyongyang if the US and its allies continue supplying Ukraine with weapons.

Russia is increasingly leaning on military imports from authoritarian nations like Iran and North Korea in its war against Ukraine. North Korea supplies the full range of artillery munitions and some short-range ballistic missiles. The first debris of a North Korean missile was earlier documented in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv City.

The Financial Times says that despite UN restrictions, at least five North Korean tankers have been documented collecting oil products from Russia’s Vostochny Port in Russia’s Far East since 7 March, according to satellite imagery shared by the UK think-tank Royal United Services Institute with FT.

In exchange for the munitions, Russia has provided North Korea with technology to assist its plans to deploy spy satellites, as well as conventional weapons such as tanks and aircraft.

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