Half of Russia’s North Korea-Made Artillery Shells Don’t Work: Ukraine

Half of more than a million artillery shells shipped to Russia from North Korea are faulty, a senior Ukrainian defense official has said.

Vadym Skibitsky, No. 2 at Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, the defense intelligence agency also known as the GUR, said the Kremlin had turned to its reclusive Asian neighbor to complement Russia’s limited arms production, but with mixed results.

Skibitsky’s comments were given to the Interfax Ukraine news agency on February 23, on the eve of the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, which has become a gruelling war of attrition that continues to test the resolve of Kyiv’s backers in the West.

“Today, if we take the available statistical data, the Russians have already imported 1.5 million rounds of ammunition from the DPRK,” Skibitsky said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea.

“But these munitions are from the 70s and 80s. Half of them do not function, and the rest require either restoration or inspection before use,” the GUR official said, citing Ukraine’s latest assessment.

Kim Jong Un benefits by “giving away” old munitions while demanding an increase in production in North Korea’s own ammunition plants, according to Skibitsky.

Pyongyang was also able to ask Moscow for certain technologies in return, including those that would facilitate its missile and submarine development, he said.

The Ukrainian official said North Korea was undoubtedly requesting technologies related to its nuclear weapons program, a development that would add further uncertainties to already sky-high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Aside from artillery shells, Russia continues to produce its own rockets while firing North Korean-made ballistic missiles, too, said Skibitsky.

The Russian defense industry was still struggling to overcome its lack of access to foreign-made electronic components—largely cut off by Western sanctions—which is impacting the quality of the missiles used by Russia’s forces, the GUR official said.

“From the debris of the rockets, we can see that rockets manufactured in the fourth quarter of last year are in use now. That is, they were manufactured in October, November, and they are being used right off the assembly line,” Skibitsky said.

“But we also see that the rockets no longer meet their stated characteristics. That is, the quality is getting much worse,” he said.

Roman Holodivskyi, a Ukrainian artillery brigade commander, told the Kyiv Independent website last week that the Russian army was firing rounds produced in 2022 and 2023, suggesting a consistent munitions supply.

Pyongyang’s alleged arms trade with Moscow was flagged by the White House last October when National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Russia took delivery of “military equipment” between September 7 and October 1.

The U.K. later handed evidence to the United Nations that suggested the same. U.N. Security Council resolutions—including those backed by Moscow’s representatives—prohibit the transfer of arms to and from North Korea.

Russia and North Korea both deny dealing in arms. The Russia Foreign Ministry and North Korea’s embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to written requests for comment before publication.

The dates of the alleged arms shipments coincided with Kim’s September visit to the Russian Far East, where Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted him at the country’s main spaceport, Vostochny Cosmodrome.

It was there that observers believe the pair struck an agreement to cooperate more closely on defense and space matters. Pyongyang launched its first successful spy satellite—with suspected technical assistance from Moscow—in November.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik told reporters on Monday that the North had shipped around 6,700 containers to Russia since the summit, enough to accommodate either 3 million rounds of 152-millimeter artillery shells or 500,000 122-millimeter rounds, according to Yonhap News Agency.

In return, Pyongyang was receiving food and other necessities, including materials for weapons manufacturing, Shin was quoted as saying.

Hwang Joon-kook, South Korea’s ambassador to the U.N., told the Security Council last month that Russia was helping the North by using Ukraine “as a test site” for its nuclear-capable missiles.

From Seoul’s perspective, “it amounts to a “simulated attack,” Hwang said.

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