Ukraine war: North Korea 'covertly' shipping artillery shells to Russia, US claims

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By Euronews  with AP
North Korea's military exercises at an undisclosed location in North Korea, 6 October 2022
North Korea's military exercises at an undisclosed location in North Korea, 6 October 2022   -  Copyright  Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

North Korea is covertly shipping a "significant number" of artillery shells to Russia in support of Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, US authorities claim.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday the US believes North Korea is "trying to make it appear as though they're being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa." 

He declined to provide a specific estimate on the quantity of ammunition being sent to bolster the Russian effort.

Kirby said North Korea "is covertly supplying" the ammunition to Russia but that "we're still monitoring this to determine whether the shipments are actually received." 

He added that the US has "an idea" of which country or countries the North may funnel the weapons through but wouldn't specify because the administration continues to look at how it might respond to Pyongyang's actions.

Kirby insisted the North Korean shipments are "not going to change the course of the war," citing Western efforts to resupply the Ukrainian military.

The White House would not specify the mode of transportation or whether the US or other nations would attempt to interdict the shipments to Russia.

The White House revealed the new intelligence nearly two months after first alleging that US determined the Russian Ministry of Defence was in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for its ongoing fight in Ukraine.

Even as the administration revealed information about the covert Pyongyang artillery shell shipments, the White House also ought to downplay their significance.

"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, Kirby said.

Pyongyang and Tehran main source of weapons for Russia

The finding comes after the Biden administration in August said the Russian military took delivery of hundreds of Iranian-manufactured drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. 

The Biden administration said Iran has also sent personnel to Russian-controlled Crimea to provide technical support on the operation of the drones. 

Meanwhile, claims by Western authorities stated that Tehran plans on supplying Russia with more weapons, including short-range surface-to-surface missiles, according to a CNN report on Wednesday.

Iranian officials have denied they have provided drones or other support to Russia.

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.

The North Koreans have shown interest in sending construction workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine's east.

North Korea's ambassador to Moscow has met with envoys from two Moscow-occupied separatist territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine and expressed optimism about cooperation in the "field of labor migration," citing his country's easing of pandemic border controls.

In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognise the so-called 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 that 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 UN resolution that required all member states to repatriate all North Korean workers from their soil by 2019.