North Korea ‘Outnumbers’ Europe To Supply Artillery Shells In Warzone; Moscow-Pyongyang Trade Skyrockets

Hundreds of commercially available satellite images since August 2023 have confirmed the continuing transfer of large quantities of munitions between North Korea and Russia.

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A just-released study by the leading American think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reveals how munitions are shipped from North Korea to Russian ports and then forwarded on to the front lines in Ukraine by train.

Satellites have noticed the increased vessel movements between Najin in North Korea and Dunai and Vostochny Port in Russia, along with some changes in vessel activity between these locations since late December 2023. These voyages were said to have resulted in the transfer of more than 2.5 million rounds of artillery shells and other munitions.

Satellite photos have also shown about  25 different visits to Najin since August 2023 for the loading of munitions from North Korea to be delivered to Russia. “Additionally, at least 19 “dark vessels”—vessels with their AIS transmissions turned off to avoid outside detection—have visited Vostochny Port in Russia to both unload and load containers from the port,” the CSIS study says.

These photos have also indicated the active expansion of infrastructure in Russia at Tikhoretsk Munitions Storage Facility, Mozdok Munitions Storage Facility, and Yegorlykskaya Airfield, which has been converted into a munitions storage facility to store ammunition closer to the front lines.

All this proves once again the deepening military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow as the war in Ukraine has entered its third year.

South Korean defense minister Shin Won-sik claimed last fortnight that since last August, Pyongyang has shipped about 6,700 containers to Russia, which could accommodate more than 3 million rounds of 152 mm artillery shells or more than 500,000 rounds of 122 mm multiple rocket launchers.

“While North Korea’s arms factories (for non-Russian exports) operate at 30% capacity due to shortages of raw materials and electricity, the factories producing weapons and artillery shells for Russia are operating at full capacity,” Shin said in a meeting with reporters.

Similarly, in a factsheet released on February 23, the US State Department said that North Korea had delivered more than 10,000 containers of munitions or related materials to Russia since September.

Russia is said to have imported shipping containers carrying military-related cargo from North Korea since October 2023 through the Vostochnaya Stevedoring Company LLC  (VSC)-owned terminal at Vostochny Port. Containers of munitions and munitions-related materials have also been delivered to Russia through the nearby Dunay Probable Naval Missile Facility.

Accordingly, these two entities have been added to the latest list of US sanctions as Washington thinks that Pyongyang’s transfer of ballistic missiles, artillery shells, and other military equipment “to sustain Putin’s aggression in Ukraine” is providing a jolt to an economy long isolated by international sanctions.

Apparently, Russian imports of North Korean arms have made a quantum jump ever since the summit meeting between President Vladimir Putin and North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un at Vladivostok last year. This business suits both the countries under increasing Western sanctions – Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and North Korea for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.

Scratching Each Other’s Back

If Russia badly needs many more shells, rockets, and launchers, which its own industry is finding it difficult to cope with in producing and which it does not get from other countries apart from possibly Iran, North Korea is gaining enormously in three areas.

One, Russia, in return for North Korean ammunition, is said to be providing the communist country with food, raw materials, and parts used in weapons manufacturing. The food aid has helped Kim stabilize prices for necessities in his country.

Two,  Russia is believed to be helping North Korea in the energy and transport sectors. There are infrastructure projects such as the Rajin-Khasan railway linking Russia to North Korea’s Rajin port. And Russia has been a key supplier of fuel to North Korea.

Third, Putin has given Kim hope that Pyongyang could get advanced technologies from Moscow to advance its satellite, missile, and nuclear-powered submarine capabilities, which could significantly advance North Korea’s military capabilities.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Volodymyr Zelenskyy/Twitter

Ukraine Not Impressed 

However, while the increasing collaborations between Russia and North Korea are being viewed with serious concerns in many parts of the world, Ukraine, and this is a big irony, does not seem to be that much impressed.

Ukrainian military leadership thinks that Russian forces are using low-quality shells sourced from North Korea that are often defective, at times causing damage to the barrels of cannons and mortars and even injuring soldiers.

Vadym Skibitsky, No. 2 at Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, better known as the GUR, is reported to have said that Russian arms have been marked with mixed results.  “These munitions are from the 70s and 80s. Half of them do not function, and the rest require either restoration or inspection before use,”  he is reported to have said.

Apparently, the Ukrainian military news site Defense Express wrote on December  9 that Russian troops have been complaining about the condition of North Korean shells, saying that some show evidence of crucial parts being cannibalized, as well as a general emphasis on quantity over quality. As a result, the shells can be less effective or even dangerous due to defects.

Be that as it may, the fact that Russia continues buying even poor-quality North Korean arms and weapons implies that it is not only Volodymyr Zelensky who, in his struggle to defend Ukraine, is desperately seeking arms and ammunition from others. Vladimir Putin, too, needs them equally badly to secure his gains in Ukraine.

The only difference between the two is that while Volodymyr needs them more or less free, Vladimir is paying for them heavily through food, energy and technologies to the world’s arguably the number one rogue regime.

  • Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has commented on politics, foreign policy, and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. 
  • CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at)
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Prakash Nanda
Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: