What is Behind U.S. Intel Reports that North Korea is Arming Russia with Millions of Artillery Shells and Rockets

A newly declassified American intelligence report has indicated that Russia is buying several million artillery shells and ammunition for its rocket artillery systems from North Korea. This comes as North Korea has supported the Russian war effort in Ukraine, having opposed UN resolutions condemning its actions and subsequently provided full recognition for the self proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics in Eastern Ukraine. Russian and eastern Ukrainian media outlets have previously indicated that North Korean contractors, military personnel and artillery systems could be deployed to Ukraine to support the Russian-led war effort there, which follows a long history of the East Asian state waging war against the United States and its Western allies by proxy.

The U.S. and other NATO member states have also deployed considerable forces to Ukraine, with the New York Times having revealed in June that the U.S. set up within Ukraine’s borders “a stealthy network of commandos and spies rushing to provide weapons, intelligence and training… C.I.A. personnel have continued to operate in the country secretly, mostly in the capital, Kiev, directing much of the massive amounts of intelligence the United States is sharing with Ukrainian forces.” “Commandos from other NATO countries, including Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, also have been working inside Ukraine… training and advising Ukrainian troops and providing an on-the-ground conduit for weapons and other aid,” it further noted, emphasising the sheer “scale of the secretive effort to assist Ukraine that is underway.” North Korea and the United States have been at war for over seven decades since 1950, and have frequently fought one another by proxy most recently in Syria where the former deployed forces to support the government and the latter backed the Islamist insurgency in the country..  

Arming Russia or even dispatching its forces to Ukraine would allow North Korea to effectively wage war against U.S. interests by proxy, with countering Russian military operations in the country having become a leading foreign policy priority in Washington reflected in the magnitude of the tens of billions of dollars of aid provided. The extent of the presence and operations of Western forces in the Eastern European country has been further highlighted in reports from several other Western papers, leaving Russia facing an adversary on the battlefield several times as powerful as it would if it were facing the Ukrainian Military alone. Although Belarus has provided limited support to Russia, while other U.S. adversaries such as Iran have remained neutral, North Korea could well be the country’s leading foreign supporter.

The North Korean defence sector the largest for a country outside the Western sphere of influence other than those of China and Russia, and effectively complements that of Russia due to its strong focus on ground warfare capabilities and in particular artillery. Although the supply of Korean munitions to Russia has not been confirmed, with U.S. intelligence having at times misreported such information, it remains plausible that Russia could turn to North Korea for a wider range of assets. This could include artillery pieces themselves, with the Korean KN-25 system having over triple the range of the top Russian or Western equivalents, or even armoured vehicles which have been produced for domestic use in North Korea at a similar or higher rate to that which Russia has produced for its own forces.