Russia is buying arms from North Korea, including millions of artillery shells and rockets for its war in Ukraine, according to newly declassified U.S. intelligence. U.S. government officials and analysts tell The New York Times and The Associated Press that the purchases from North Korea are a sign that Western sanctions are taking their toll on Russia's ability to replenish its armament stocks, even with low-tech munitions like artillery shells.
"The Kremlin should be alarmed that it has to buy anything at all from North Korea," Mason Clark, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War, tells the Times. The U.S. reported late last month that Russia had just purchased military drones, some of them glitchy, from Iran for use against Ukrainian forces.
If the Kremlin is buying arms or munitions from anyone outside Russia, that means Russian President Vladimir Putin "has been unwilling or unable to mobilize the Russian economy for war at even the most basic level," Frederick Kagan, a military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed. "This is very likely an indication of a massive failure of the Russian military industrial complex that likely has deep roots and very serious implications for the Russian armed forces."
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the Biden administration had declassified intelligence showing Russia's buildup to the attack. "After something of a lull in the disclosures, the American government has once again begun declassifying information to highlight the struggles of Russia's military, including the recent intelligence about the purchase of Iranian drones and the Russian army's problems recruiting soldiers," the Times reports. Buying arms from North Korea would violated United Nations sanctions.
Russia has long ties to North Korea, starting when the Soviet Union installed Kim Il Sun as the country's first ruler in 1948, AP reports. Putin restored loosened ties with Pyongyang after his election in 2000, seeking to find more allies as a counterweight to the U.S., and Russia and Beijing have called for easing U.N. sanctions against North Korea imposed for its nuclear weapons program. Putin and Kim Jong Un have recently exchanged letters calling for "comprehensive," "strategic, and tactical" cooperation between the two countries.