North Korea is looking to step up its military cooperation with Russia by sending Moscow new types of tactical guided missiles, while Pyongyang may soon conduct new tests of its own missiles designed to deliver nuclear strikes, South Korea’s defense minister said.
Kim Jong Un’s regime appears to be planning for a trial of atmospheric reentry of a warhead designed to be carried by an intercontinental ballistic missile to the U.S. mainland, Shin Wonsik said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News published Thursday. This would mean firing a long-range rocket a distance of several thousand kilometers, he said.
The cooperation outlined by Shin would mark a new phase of Kim’s assistance for Russian President Vladimir Putin in his war on Ukraine, which could help the Kremlin continue its grinding bombardment of its neighbor.
By sending more weapons of greater sophistication, Kim is likely receiving substantial aid that keeps his sanctions-hit economy afloat as well as technology from Russia that increases the security threat North Korea poses to the U.S. and its allies in the region — South Korea and Japan, weapons experts have said.
“North Korea said it will deploy (close range ballistic missiles) with front-line troops. Given the recent arms trade, North Korea could sell them to Russia,” Shin told Yonhap.
North Korea first tested CRBMs in April 2022 with an estimated range of about 100-180 kilometers (60-110 miles), Shin said. Visits by the North Korean leader to munitions factories reported by his state media this week could be linked to the arms trade with Russia, the defense minister added.
More than a year ago, the U.S. accused North Korea of supplying munitions to Russia that are interoperable with the Soviet-era weaponry it has deployed in Ukraine. Since then, the cooperation has grown to include short-range ballistic missiles, the U.S. said last week. Moscow and Pyongyang have repeatedly denied the accusations.
Shin added the flow of munitions may have reached more than 2 million rounds. North Korea is estimated to have provided around 5,000 containers of weapons to Russia as of the end of December that could hold some 2.3 million rounds of 152 millimeter shells, Yonhap reported the minister as saying.
If North Korea sold shells at $1,000 each, the amount so far provided by Pyongyang would be equal to about 10% of North Korea’s GDP, according to Bloomberg News calculations. That’s a conservative estimate because high demand has driven up prices, with the 155 mm shells used by NATO forces priced at about $3,000 each.
Shin said North Korea has been preparing to test a new type of intermediate-range ballistic missile. It could come as early as this month after Pyongyang conducted two engine tests in November, he said.
An IRBM is designed to have a range that would be long enough to hit all of Japan and U.S. military facilities in Guam, where the Pentagon says it keeps one of America’ largest munitions depots in the world.
While Biden administration officials said this month they plan to raise the latest developments at the United Nations Security Council, there may be little that Washington can do to stop trade in illicit goods between North Korea and Russia.
Satellite imagery of North Korea’s Najin port taken from October to December shows a steady stream of ships at the facility, hundreds of shipping containers being loaded and unloaded, and rail cars ready to transport goods.
The vessels docking there appear to have turned off international maritime transponders that would reveal their location, as they ply the relatively short route between Najin and Dunay, a former Soviet submarine port about 180 km. away, according to a report by the Royal United Services Institute, a U.K. security think tank.
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