The White House has 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 US 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 on 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 US has “an idea” of which country or countries the North may funnel 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 US 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 US intelligence officials had determined the Russian Ministry of Defence was in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for its ongoing fight in Ukraine.
Even as the administration revealed information about the covert North Korean artillery shell shipments, the White House also ought to downplay their significance.
After the Korean War, North Korea followed the Soviet Union’s lead in infantry weapons. The oldest gun still in service is the KPA Type 58 assault rifle. A clone of the Soviet AK-47, the Type 58 was produced in two factories, #61 and #65 located near Chongjin, between 1958 and 1968. The Type 58 was a basic AK-pattern rifle with a 30 round magazine and a rate of fire of up to 650 rounds per minute. Approximately 800,000 rifles were produced, and while the 7.62-millimeter assault rifle is no longer in service with frontline units it allegedly still equips reserve units and militia.
Intelligence reports suggest that North Korea has shipped 5,000 Type 58 variant assault rifles and ammunitions to Russia.
“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.
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.
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