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North Korea secretly supplies artillery to Russia, US says


The North Korean government is secretly funneling artillery shells to help Russia in its war in Ukraine using countries in the Middle East and North Africa to mask the movement of weapons, even though it was not still clear if these shipments were received, the White House said Wednesday.

The shipments include “thousands” of shells, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby told reporters. He called the number “significant” but not enough to change the war’s trajectory “appreciably”.

Kirby would not disclose how the North Koreans might ship the artillery shells or which countries are considered transfer points, saying only, “We have an idea of ​​where they are going” and that the United States ” would continue to look at what our options are.

The allegations about North Korea add to evidence that Russia has also relied on Iran – and in particular Iranian-made drones – to supplement its war effort in Ukraine. The fact that Moscow has turned to the two pariah states – which have spent years under punitive sanctions aimed at stifling their development of nuclear weapons – is “a sign of Russia’s shortages and material needs”, said Kirby.

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He credited the “effectiveness of international sanctions” for hampering Russia’s defense industrial base to the point that Russian President Vladimir Putin had to seek help from North Korea – an option the Biden administration has first suggested to Putin several weeks ago.

“In September, we had indications that Russia was ready to buy,” Kirby said. said. “Now we have indications that Russia has bought – and they are moving.”

But there are practical limits to Russia obtaining these weapons, especially if Moscow wants them quickly.

“The artillery is very, very heavy. So sending it by ship is going to take weeks,” said Bruce Bennett, defense researcher at Rand Corp. and Northeast Asia and Middle East expert. It is much more likely, he said, that North Korea would send at least some of the shells through China, where trains could carry the load through Central Asia and into Iran, which which would make it almost impossible for the United States and its allies to ban the weapons before. they arrive at their destination.

It’s also possible, Bennett said, that North Korea is using multiple routes to keep the West guessing. Pyongyang should use sea routes to get artillery to North Africa, potentially creating more opportunities for the West to seize weapons, but also ensuring steady supplies for the Russians, he said. noted, adding: “It may well be that some of the munitions travel by train and some travel by ship because Russia thinks it is going to be in this war for an extended period of time.

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Although the White House did not specify which countries served as transfer points, there are a handful of likely candidates, given where Russia wields influence in the region.

Russia has close ties with Syria, where it served as President Bashar al-Assad’s main military patron in an 11-year civil war that has become a stalemate with rebel and extremist groups largely entrenched in the northwest of the country. country. Russia controls, under a bilateral agreement, the naval base of Tartous, on the Mediterranean coast, as well as the air base of Hmeimim. Moscow has modernized both facilities in recent years.

Assad also has ties with North Korea, which has been accused of providing the Syrian army with ballistic missiles and chemical weapons components in defiance of UN sanctions. In 2019, the two countries signed an economic cooperation agreement.

In North Africa, Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group are said to be present in bases and ports controlled by the Libyan national army of rebel warlord Khalifa Hifter. Researchers say the group is present in more than a dozen countries on the continent.

North Korea has a network of military front companies in Africa which experts say also make it advantageous to choose these intermediary countries.

“The North Koreans have established routes there that they could maneuver,” said Ken Gause, a North Korea expert with the CNA think tank, noting that “the United States is watching Korea a lot. of the North”, which makes the direct routes via Siberia less numerous. attractive.

Earlier this fall, North Korea vehemently denied allegations that it could supply weapons to Russia. His carrying out the deals is a sign, experts say, that the country is either beholden to Moscow – or has something it wants to gain by doing this favor for Russia now.

North Korea’s main occupation is its position on the Korean peninsula, where its protracted standoff with South Korea became particularly difficult on Wednesday. Amid joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, the North carried out missile launches, with one missile landing near South Korean waters, prompting Seoul to retaliate.

North Korea has also sought to develop its own tactical nuclear arsenal – weapons of which Russia has more than any other country in the world. “I guess North Korea is doing this to get Russia to give them aid that they previously denied them,” Bennett said. “When you run a country that is as rogue a state as Kim Jong Un is in North Korea, you have to take every opportunity that comes your way.”

washingtonpost Gt

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