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Russia is buying weapons from North Korea, according to US intelligence

Washington says sanctions have forced Moscow to turn to new alternatives for military supplies
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PHOTO/ Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP  -   Test firing of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea on March 24, 2022

Russia is reportedly buying millions of shells and rockets from North Korea, showing that sanctions against Moscow have hindered its usual supply routes, The New York Times reports.

The newspaper, which cites recently declassified US intelligence documents as a source, says the sanctions have forced Russia to turn to "pariah states" for military supplies. In addition to short-range missiles and artillery shells, a US official has noted that Russia is expected to try to purchase additional equipment from North Korea in the future.

"The Kremlin should be alarmed at having to buy anything from North Korea," Mason Clark, who heads the Russia team at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), tells the newspaper. Acquiring North Korean weaponry shows that sanctions against Russia are working, at least militarily.

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AFP/AFP - Graph on North Korea's missile launches and nuclear tests with monthly data since 2012

According to US officials, these measures have been effective in hindering the purchase of weapons or electronics needed to make weapons, so Russia's new deal with North Korea "shows Moscow's desperation".

Similarly, Frederick W. Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told The New York Times that the "only reason the Kremlin should have to buy artillery shells or rockets from North Korea or any other country is because Putin has been unwilling or unable to mobilise the Russian economy for war".

This is not the first time US intelligence has accused third countries of arming Russia. In July, Washington claimed that Iran was "preparing" to deliver drones to the Russian military.

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Iranian military/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Propaganda via REUTERS - A view of a drone during a military exercise at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained August 24, 2022

As National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan explained, Iranian forces were reportedly preparing to "train Russian troops in the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles with initial training sessions scheduled to begin in early July". However, a US official revealed to Reuters that the Iranian-made Russian drones had suffered "numerous failures".

Months earlier, US reports indicated that Russia had requested weapons assistance from China, information that was later denied by Moscow and Beijing. 

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AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN ARMY OFFICE - This handout image provided by the Iranian Army office on August 25, 2022 shows the launch of a military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) during a two-day drone drill at an undisclosed location in Iran

However, neither country has changed its relations with Russia since the beginning of the invasion, nor have they condemned the aggression. In fact, Moscow's ties with both have grown closer since the beginning of the war.

Moscow pledges to boost relations with Pyongyang

Similarly with North Korea, with which Russia has pledged to "expand comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations", President Vladimir Putin said in a letter to his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un, who responded to the letter by referring to "strategic and tactical cooperation, support and solidarity".

The North Korean leader also stressed that the partnership between the two countries involved "a new scenario" centred on "a common front to thwart threats and military provocation by hostile forces", according to the BBC. North Korea has been among the few countries to officially recognise the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, prompting Ukraine to suspend diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. 

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PHOTO/YURI KADOBNOV via AP - In this Thursday, April 25, 2019 file photo, President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, centre, walk alongside honor guard officers during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia

Current cooperation between Russia and North Korea is so strong that Russian military analyst Igor Korotchenko even claimed in early August that the Pyongyang regime was planning to send 100,000 troops to the war in Ukraine. However, the Kremlin denied this information.

"We can state with full responsibility that these reports are false news from beginning to end. There are no such talks underway and there are no plans to deploy North Korean volunteers," said Ivan Nechaev, deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Information and Press Department.

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AFP/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV - Russian servicemen fire a shell while taking part in the "Vostok-2022" military manoeuvres
Putin oversees final phase of Vostok-2022 manoeuvres

The Russian president has witnessed part of the Vostok-2022 military exercises taking place in Russia's Far East. Putin attended the final phase of the exercises with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. 

According to Moscow, more than 50,000 troops and over 5,000 pieces of military equipment, including 140 aircraft and 60 ships, are taking part in the Vostok 2022 exercises, which began on 1 September. Participating countries include Algeria, Belarus, China, Nicaragua and Syria.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra