Russia is shipping “hundreds of containers likely packed with North Korean armaments,” new satellite images indicate, which could bolster Russia’s cache of sorely needed weapons and boost its war effort against Ukraine.
“Dozens of high-resolution satellite images taken in recent months reveal that Russia has likely begun shipping North Korean munitions at scale,” a new report from the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank said on Monday.
The images show two cargo vessels “repeatedly transporting hundreds of containers likely packed with North Korean armaments” between the isolated Russian port of Dunai and through North Korea’s Rajin port, not far from the border, the think tank said in a new report.
On Friday, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that North Korea has supplied up to 1,000 containers of “equipment and munitions” to the Kremlin between September 7 and October 1.
“We condemn the DPRK for providing Russia with this military equipment,” Kirby said, referring to to North Korea’s official title of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The new supply route, shown in satellite footage analyzed by RUSI, could have “profound consequences for the war in Ukraine and international security dynamics in East Asia,” the defense think tank said on Monday.
“North Korean arms have yet to appear in significant quantities on the battlefield,” the RUSI report said, before adding: “That, however, is about to change.”
Two Russian-flagged vessels have completed multiple journeys between North Korea and Russia since August, RUSI said, and were captured on satellite imagery despite apparently having their transponders switched off.
The “final destination of these shipments” looks to be an ammunition depot in the Russian town of Tikhoretsk, in the southern Krasnodar region. It’s around 120 miles from the border with Ukraine.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment via email.
Moscow has been courting closer relations with Pyongyang since it launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. North Korea has in turn said Russia has its “full and unconditional support.”
Kim Jong-un, the leader of the secretive and closed-off state, visited Russia in mid-September for a trip widely speculated to involve negotiations for North Korea to supply Russia with ammunition for its troops in Ukraine. Western observers and experts raised concerns that North Korea could then gain Russian high-tech expertise and aid with developing weapons as part of the exchange.
“In return for support, we assess the Pyongyang is seeking military assistance from Russia including fighter aircraft, surface to air missiles, armored vehicles, ballistic missile production equipment, or other materials and other advanced technologies,” Kirby said late last week.
In late July, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Russia as “desperately looking for support, for weapons wherever it can find them.” His words coincided with Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, visiting North Korea.
“We see that in North Korea,” Blinken told reporters, adding: “We see that as well with Iran, which has provided many drones to Russia that it’s using to destroy civilian infrastructure and kill civilians in Ukraine.”
Iran has provided Russia with its Shahed-131 and -136 suicide drones, which have been extensively deployed across Ukraine to target infrastructure and cities. The loitering munitions offered Moscow a cheaper, yet often still effective, way to hit Ukraine where it hurts.