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North Korea suspected of supplying artillery from 1970s to Russia for war in Ukraine

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, inspects a test-fire of controllable shells for its 240-millimeter multiple rocket launchers on Friday, in a photo carried by its official Korean Central News Agency Saturday. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, inspects a test-fire of controllable shells for its 240-millimeter multiple rocket launchers on Friday, in a photo carried by its official Korean Central News Agency Saturday. [YONHAP]

South Korea’s top spy agency said Sunday it is conducting a detailed review into suspicions that North Korean artillery shells and other weapons made in the 1970s have been supplied to Russia for its war in Ukraine, which comes as Pyongyang has been speeding along the development of new weapons systems.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) responded to a recent local media outlet’s report that 122-millimeter (4.8-inch) artillery shells manufactured in North Korea in the 1970s appeared to be among the weapons that Russia used in its attacks against Ukraine.

Photos taken by a Ukrainian photographer last year showed artillery shells inscribed the name “Bang-122” in Korean. Analysts say that Bang-122 refers to the North’s 122-millimeter multiple rocket launchers.

The NIS has been further monitoring the possibility of North Korea illicitly procuring weapons parts amid concerns it may be trying to use them to upgrade its outdated conventional weapons technology.

This comes amid deepening military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow, especially following a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September last year.

South Korean military authorities assessed last year that North Korea provided 122-millimeter multiple rocket launchers and 152-millimeter artillery shells to Russia.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik previously estimated the North to have shipped around 6,700 containers to Russia since their leaders’ summit last September. This could be enough to carry around 3 million rounds of 152-millimeter artillery shells or 500,000 rounds of 122-millimeter artillery shells.

Pyongyang, in turn, appears to be handing over old stockpiles of artillery shells to Russia while accelerating its development of updated weapons systems along with their mass production.

North Korea said Saturday it will deploy a new 240-millimeter multiple rocket launcher to its military starting this year.

Leader Kim Jong-un supervised a test-firing of controllable shells for a “technically updated version” of the 240-millimeter multiple rocket launcher system on Friday, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in an English-language report.

Kim watched the “test-fire of controllable shells for the multiple rocket launcher” produced at different national defense companies.

The 240-millimeter multiple rocket launcher is a weapons system that can put the Seoul metropolitan area in range and is often mentioned whenever Pyongyang raises its threat of bringing about a “sea of fire in Seoul.”

The KCNA reported that its updated multiple rocket launcher has “high mobility” and “an automatic fire combined control system” and “will be deployed to units of the Korean People’s Army as replacement equipment” starting from this year to 2026.

“A significant change will be soon made in increasing the artillery combat ability of our army,” the KCNA added.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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