The White House on Wednesday accused North Korea of covertly shipping a “significant number” of artillery shells to Russia in support of its invasion of Ukraine.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. believes North Korea is “trying to make it appear as though they’re being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.” He declined to provide a specific estimate of the quantity of ammunition being sent to bolster the Russian effort.
Kirby said North Korea “is covertly supplying” the ammunition to Russia, but that “we’re still monitoring this to determine whether the shipments are actually received.” He added that the U.S. has “an idea” of which country or countries the North may be funneling the weapons through but wouldn’t specify, because the administration continues to look at how it might respond to North Korea’s actions.
Kirby insisted the North Korean shipments are “not going to change the course of the war,” citing Western efforts to resupply the Ukrainian military.
The White House would not specify the mode of transportation or whether the U.S. or other nations would attempt to interdict the shipments to Russia.
The White House revealed the new intelligence nearly two months after first alleging that U.S. intelligence officials had determined the Russian Ministry of Defense was purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for its fight in Ukraine.
Even as the administration revealed information about the covert North Korean artillery shell shipments, the White House also sought to downplay their significance.
“We don’t believe that they are in such a quantity that they would change the direction of this war or tangibly change the momentum either in the east or in the south,” where some of the heaviest fighting in Ukraine is taking place, Kirby said.
The finding comes after the Biden administration in August said the Russian military took delivery of hundreds of Iranian-manufactured drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. The Biden administration said Iran has also sent personnel to Russian-controlled Crimea to provide technical support on operation of the drones. Iranian officials have denied they have provided drones or other support to Russia.
North Korea has sought to tighten relations with Russia as much of the West has pulled away, blaming the United States for the Ukraine crisis and decrying the West’s “hegemonic policy” as justifying military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself.
The North Koreans have shown interest in sending construction workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine’s east.
North Korea’s ambassador to Moscow has met with envoys from two Russia-backed separatist territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine and expressed optimism about cooperation in the “field of labor migration,” citing his country’s easing of pandemic border controls.
In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognize the independence of the territories, Donetsk and Luhansk, further aligning with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.
The North’s arms export to Russia would be a violation of U.N. resolutions that ban the country from exporting weapons to or importing them from other countries. Its possible dispatch of laborers to the Russian-held territories in Ukraine would also breach a U.N. resolution that required all member states to repatriate all North Korean workers from their soil by 2019.