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Increasing North Korean-Russian Cooperation in the Context of Arms Supply Claims

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Claims that North Korea is supplying armaments to Russia demonstrate that Moscow and Pyongyang’s military and political ambitions are converging. At the same time, these claims point to the logistical problems that Russia is experiencing in the Ukrainian War.

The accelerated pace of Moscow’s arms supply signals that the Kremlin anticipates the Ukrainian War will continue for a long time. As a matter of fact, with this move, Russia may be attempting to enhance the speed of its weapons manufacturing capability, ensuring that output in its facilities keeps up with the speed of use. In other words, by acquiring military ammunition from North Korea, the Moscow administration may be attempting to stabilize the production process.

The United States of America’s (USA) intelligence assessment on Russia’s attempts to obtain artillery from North Korea indicates that Pyongyang is attempting to conceal its military supply through countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In this regard, US National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby stated that North Korea supplied a large quantity of artillery shells to Russia for the Ukraine War, with the destinations listed as Middle Eastern or North African countries.[1] Although Kirby did not name the country, the US may believe that Iran, another country suspected of supplying weapons to Russia, is being utilized as a transit country for North Korea’s arms supply. Currently, the governments of Pyongyang and Tehran are cooperating on missile development.[2]

North Korea presently manufactures military ammunition that could be characterized as modernized versions of Soviet-era equipment. Furthermore, Pyongyang draws attention to itself through the development of Long-Range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and nuclear weapons. As a result, North Korea may appeal to Russia in the arms trade.

Another basis for the aforementioned claims is that North Korea has a railway network that connects to the Russian town of Khasan through the town of Tumangang in the country’s north. The existence of such a route strengthens the claims.

At this point, it should be noted that artillery shells played a significant role in the Ukraine War and that the Russian arsenal had far more artillery shells than the Ukrainian Army at the start of the war. However, a balance was established with Western powers’ arms supplies to Kiev, and Ukraine even gained the upper hand.[3] Furthermore, it is reported that 122 mm and 155 mm artillery rounds are among the most favoured artillery shells in the field, and while the Moscow administration had an edge in this area at the start of the war, Kyiv acquired an advantage with the rapid production of Ukroboronprom.[4] Therefore, the fact that North Korea has a significant stock of 122 mm artillery shells[5] may be an appealing factor for Russia. This can be interpreted as a factor pointing to the accuracy of the claims.

In addition to all of these, the fact that North Korea and Russia show signs of political rapprochement also strengthens the validity of the claims. In reality, the two countries are growing closer because they challenge Western hegemony and are “marginalized” by the global system, which has sought to isolate them through sanctions. North Korea, for example, is one of the few states that recognizes Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Furthermore, on October 7, 2022, North Korean President Kim Jong-un congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his birthday and complimented him on “successfully defending the state from threats caused by the US and its Western hegemony.”[6] In the message, Kim stated that North Korea-Russia cooperation was at its “strongest point in history.”[7]

The Moscow administration, on the other hand, vetoed the new sanctions planned to be imposed on North Korea by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in May 2022.[8] In addition, during the same UNSC meeting in November of the same year, Russia refused to condemn North Korea for its nuclear tests. Moreover, he blamed the West and the USA as the cause of the tension between Pyongyang and Washington.[9] This alignment of the two actors on both the foreign policy axis and the development of political strategy demonstrates that receiving ammunition support from North Korea in the Ukraine War is not that far off a possibility.

In conlusion, Russia encountered numerous difficulties throughout the Ukraine War. However, North Korea is viewed as a regional security threat due to its nuclear testing. It also conducts numerous drills in collaboration with the US, South Korea, and Japan. On the other hand, Pyongyang is also faced with a pressure of sanctions within the UNSC. As a result, it is expected that the parties would strengthen their collaboration in the face of global and regional issues. Therefore, it is normal for claims of arms supply to come to the agenda.


[1] “North Korea Dismisses Claims of Weapons Shipments to Russia”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/8/north-korea-dismisses-claims-shipping-weapons-to-russia, (Date of Accession: 09.11.2022).

[2] “UN Report Says Iran and North Korea Resumed Missile Cooperation”, RFERL, https://www.rferl.org/a/un-report-says-iran-and-north-korea-resumed-missile-cooperation/31093315.html, (Date of Accession: 09.11.2022).

[3] “The Ukraine War Has Often Been A Grid Artillery Battle. These Are The Big Guns Being Sent In To Pound Russian Forces”, Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/foreign-artillery-being-sent-to-ukraine-to-fight-russian-forces-2022-11, (Date of Accession: 10.11.2022).

[4] “Ukroboronprom Establishes the Production of 122-mm and 152-mm Shells”, Mil.in.ua, https://mil.in.ua/en/news/ukroboronprom-establishes-the-production-of-122-mm-and-152-mm-shells /, (Date of Accession: 10.11.2022).

[5] “M1977”, Military Today, http://www.military-today.com/artillery/m1977.htm, (Date of Accession: 10.11.2022)

[6] “Explainer: Putin and North Korea’s Kim Forge Closer Ties Amid Shared Isolation”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/putin-north-koreas-kim-forge-closer-ties-amid-shared-isolation-2022-10-07/, (Date of Accession: 10.11.2022).

[7] North Korea Touts “Strained” Russian Cooperation in Message to Putin, Kyodo News, https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2022/10/754ffbc57fe2-n-korea-touts-strengthened-russia-cooperation-in-message-to-putin.html, (Date of Accession: 10.11.2022).

[8] “China, Russia Veto U.S. Push for More U.N. Sanctions on North Korea”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/china-russia-veto-us-push-more-un-sanctions-north-korea-2022-05-26 /, (Date of Accession: 10.11.2022).

[9] “Us Confronts China, Russia at UN over N. Korean Missile Launches”, Al Jazeera, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/5/us-confronts-china-russia-at-un-over-n-korean-missile-launches, (Date of Accession: 05.11.2022).

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten, 2021 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden “Amerikan Dış Politikası” başlıklı bitirme teziyle mezun olmuştur. Halihazırda Marmara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda Tezli Yüksek Lisans öğrenimine devam eden Gülten, lisans eğitimi esnasında Erasmus+ programı çerçevesinde Lodz Üniversitesi Uluslararası ve Politik Çalışmalar Fakültesi’nde bir dönem boyunca öğrenci olarak bulunmuştur. ANKASAM’ın çalışmalarına katkıda bulunan Gülten’in başlıca ilgi alanları; Amerikan Dış Politikası, Asya-Pasifik ve Uluslararası Hukuk’tur. Gülten, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.