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Monday, April 15, 2024

North has shipped 6,700 containers of munitions to Russia, says South’s defense chief

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Defense Minister Shin Won-sik speaks at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Monday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]
Defense Minister Shin Won-sik speaks at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Yongsan District, central Seoul, on Monday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]


North Korea has supplied around 6,700 shipping containers filled with munitions to Russia in exchange for food and other necessities, according to South Korea’s defense chief.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said the South Korean government estimates that the scale of the North’s shipments to Russia is equivalent to approximately 3 million rounds of 152-millimeter artillery shells or 500,000 122-millimeter shells.

Shipments have not been limited to those from the North to Russia, according to the defense minister, who noted that the volume of containers traveling in the opposite direction appeared 30 percent larger.

According to Shin, North Korea is likely receiving “food and other necessities” from Russia in exchange for supplying munitions for the latter’s war against Ukraine, as well as raw materials and components used in weapons manufacturing.

He added that the South Korean government believes that food “accounts for the largest proportion” of Russia’s shipments and that such supplies may have helped “stabilize” food prices inside the North.

The defense minister also noted that Pyongyang appears to be prioritizing weapons production for exports to Russia over its own military needs.

“While [most] North Korean weapons factories are operating at 30 percent capacity due to shortages of raw materials and electricity, certain factories that primarily produce weapons and shells for Russia are operating at full capacity,” Shin told reporters.

The defense minister also said Russia likely provided satellite technology that helped the North launch its first military spy satellite into orbit in November.

But the defense minister said he doubts the North’s claims that the satellite is capable of conducting reconnaissance on South Korea and major U.S. military bases in and around the region.

“It shows no signs of functioning and is merely orbiting without activity,” he said.

But Shin warned that Russian technology transfers to North Korea could increase if Moscow continues to require North Korean arms.

“It’s unclear how much Russia will offer in terms of technology related to aircraft and ground equipment being sought by North Korea, but the scope of such transfers may increase if Russia needs more munitions from the North.”

U.S. and South Korean intelligence have warned of increased arms shipments from the North to Russia since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September last year.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said last week that Russia has used at least 20 North Korean ballistic missiles in attacks on Ukraine since late December.

The SBU also said that the Russian-fired, North Korean-made missiles have killed at least 24 civilians and injured at least 100.

According to a report by the London-based investigative organization Conflict Armament Research, 75 percent of the 290 foreign components from one of the missiles were “linked to companies incorporated in the United States,” while 16 percent were linked to companies in Europe and 11 percent to companies in Asia.

Over three-fourths of the components were produced between 2021 and 2023, indicating that the missile was assembled at some point after March last year, highlighting the North’s continued ability to evade sanctions by the United States to procure foreign parts necessary for its weapons.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]