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US says Russia buying North Korean artillery in sign that sanctions are weighing on its military

Russian S-300 launcher during the May military parade in 2008. (SLonoed/Wikimedia Commons)
September 07, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A declassified U.S. intelligence assessment says Russia is acquiring millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea for its six-month-old invasion of Ukraine, in an indication of the effect that Western sanctions are having on the Russian war effort.

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The New York Times first published the findings of the intelligence assessment, but the newspaper said the specifics of the purchases, including their type and timing, were unclear.

The paper quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying such purchases were expected to continue and perhaps expand beyond short-range rockets and ammunition.

Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder acknowledged that the United States has seen signs of such purchases.

“We do have indications that Russia has approached North Korea to request ammunition,” Ryder said on September 6 at a briefing.

Asked why the information was declassified, Ryder said it’s relevant to illustrate the condition of Russia’s ongoing military campaign in Ukraine.

“It does demonstrate and is indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine,” said Ryder, who provided the administration’s first public comments on the intelligence assessment. “We assess that things are not going well on that front for Russia.”

It also shows that Russia is “trying to reach out to international actors like Iran and North Korea that don’t have the best record when it comes to international stability,” Ryder said.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence, said the purchase “indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, due in part to export controls and sanctions.”

Neither Ryder nor the U.S. official were able to say how much weaponry Russia intends to purchase from North Korea.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said there were no indications that the arms purchase had actually occurred yet or that any North Korean munitions had made it onto the battlefield in Ukraine.

But Kirby said the talks alone were another indication of how desperate Russian President Vladimir Putin is becoming.

“It’s an indication of how much his defense industrial establishment is suffering as a result of this war and the degree of desperation that he’s reaching out to countries like Iran and North Korea for assistance,” Kirby told reporters.

The disclosure of the U.S. assessment follows reports last month originating from U.S. sources asserting that there were mechanical or technical problems among the first two types of military drone purchased recently from Russian ally Iran.

Putin and his intelligence chiefs and war planners are thought to have believed that the main aims of their full-scale invasion after eight years of war mostly by proxy in eastern Ukraine could be achieved in a matter of days when they launched it in late February.

But Ukrainians have mounted a fierce defense and, aided by Western weapons shipments, have recently launched a major counteroffensive to retake territory in southern Ukraine.

Both sides’ casualty figures are classified, but the consensus is that each side has lost tens of thousands of soldiers or, in Ukraine’s case, troops along with civilian defense forces.

Kyiv and Moscow have both pledged to fight as long as it takes to secure victory.

Western governments and NATO members have supplied tens of billions of dollars in weapons and other military aid to Ukraine for a campaign that some regard as a potential Kremlin stepping stone to further wars of territorial expansion, particularly among former Soviet republics.