CNN first: U.S. accuses North Korea of ​​trying to hide ammunition shipments to Russia


According to newly declassified intelligence, the United States accused North Korea of ​​secretly supplying Russia with artillery shells used in the Ukraine war and concealing the destination of the shells.

U.S. officials see North Korea’s clandestine shipments — along with drones and other weapons Russia obtained from Iran — as further evidence that even Moscow’s conventional artillery arsenal has dwindled in the eight months of fighting. Intelligence said North Korea sought to conceal the shipments by making it appear as if the ammunition was destined for a country in the Middle East or North Africa.

The latest intelligence came about two months after the U.S. intelligence community expressed its belief that Russia was in the process of buying millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for use in the battlefield, CNN and other media outlets reported at the time.

“In September, (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) publicly denied that it intended to supply Russia with ammunition,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, said in a statement to CNN. “However, our information suggests that North Korea surreptitiously supplied large quantities of artillery shells to Russia’s war in Ukraine while trying to obfuscate the true destination of the arms shipments, making it appear that they were being sent to countries in the Middle East. East or North Africa.”

Officials have provided no evidence to support the new allegations. The declassified intelligence also did not provide details on how many weapons were in the shipment, or how they would be paid for.

“We will continue to monitor whether these shipments have been received,” Kirby said, noting that Russia continues to count on actors such as North Korea and Iran to sustain its aggressive war in Ukraine “with supply shortages and international sanctions in effect.”

However, U.S. officials have publicly touted the alleged deal as proof that Russia is running out of weapons to continue the war.

Just two weeks ago, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines argued that “export controls are forcing Russia to seek supplies, including drones, artillery shells and rockets, from countries like Iran and North Korea.”

Kirby said Wednesday that Iran and North Korea’s support “will not change the course of the war” and that the United States remains committed to providing continued security assistance to Ukraine.

But the cargo may now help Russia step up an important part of its war effort: intense artillery fighting on the front lines.

“This could be a significant development because one of Russia’s challenges is maintaining artillery fire,” said Michael Coffman, director of the Russian Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analysis, stressing that he had no idea about potential intelligence. “The Russian army may have experienced millions of shells by this time.”

Russia has been “compensating for manpower deficits with higher firepower,” Coffman said, a strategy he said “could be very expensive in terms of ammunition supplies” and has Russia, like Ukraine, scouring the globe for Soviet weapons nation. – Supply of caliber artillery compatible with its systems to sustain the war.

Several weeks before the new intelligence, several military and intelligence officials began to believe that North Korea was abandoning a deal to supply arms to Russia, multiple officials explained to CNN.

Some officials have begun touting this as a victory for the Biden administration’s strategy of selectively declassifying and publicizing some of the classified intelligence about Russia’s waging war, arguing that when the U.S. released the deal, it revealed an unpopular one. welcome fact. Pyongyang declined to disclose.

But now, U.S. officials say they believe the rogue regime has continued to back Moscow, despite North Korea’s denials, as the war appears poised to enter its second year.

U.S. officials have publicly argued that Russia was forced to seek weapons from North Korea and Iran, both because it burned through stocks in a conflict that was months longer than expected, and because U.S. and Western export controls made it harder for Russia Get the technical components you need to rebuild your inventory yourself.

U.S. officials have said they will work to uncover and counter shipments to Russia from Iran and North Korea and target the networks that support them, but they have not specified how they plan to do so.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday that the U.S. military had “intercepted” weapons shipments in the past, but did not say whether the interception was considered a flow of weapons to Russia.

New intelligence that Russia is getting shells from North Korea suggests the extent of the shortage is not limited to more sophisticated precision-guided munitions, which U.S. and Western officials have long highlighted as a weakness in Russia’s arsenal. It also extends to basic artillery.

“In many ways, the Russians are really exhausted in terms of some of the inputs they need to wage war on Ukraine,” Price said Tuesday, noting that export controls and sanctions have kept Russia from investing in Ukraine. Create certain weapons.

The exact status of Russia’s stockpile of conventional munitions has not been made public, but Russia is “burning tens of thousands of rounds a day,” said Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Program at the Federation of American Scientists. North Korea. “They are eager to find ammunition wherever they can get it.”

Over the summer, Russia made some headway in parts of Ukraine with severe shelling. But since then, Western-supplied artillery has contributed to a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive, which has recaptured swathes of territory previously occupied by Russia.

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA South Korea analyst, said North Korea may be able to provide Russia with 122 or 152mm shells compatible with Russian systems, as well as tubular or multiple rocket launchers. Now at the Heritage Foundation.

But it is unclear how much of an impact North Korea’s artillery shells would have on Russia on the battlefield.

In 2010, North Korea fired 170 122mm shells at Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea. Less than half hit the island, and about a quarter of them failed to detonate — a high failure rate “indicating that some North Korean-made artillery munitions, particularly (multi-barrel rocket launcher) munitions, were either manufactured with poor quality control. good, or poor storage conditions and standards,” according to a 2016 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The last time they used these systems showed that their systems were fairly inaccurate,” Mount said. “You would think that these Soviet-era systems were aging, so they would start to crumble.”

This has been updated with other reports.

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