Russia, Ukraine Turn To Asia For Support; After South Korea, Japan Could Help Kyiv With 155mm Artillery Shells

Japan is reportedly in talks to supply the United States with artillery shells to bolster Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia, signaling a departure from its traditional stance on restrictive policies for exporting lethal weapons.

On June 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Asian country is considering supplying 155mm artillery shells to Ukraine under a 2016 pact to share ammunition as part of its longstanding security alliance with the United States. 

During talks held in Tokyo between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, the issue of artillery shell supply for Ukraine was addressed.

According to the report, the supply of Japanese shells will replenish depleted US stockpiles, which have been significantly reduced due to the substantial military assistance provided to Ukraine. 

The report also highlights that since Russia’s special military operation began on February 24, 2022, the United States has sent over 2 million 155mm shells to Ukraine.

155mm shells. Photo credits: US Army6

Earlier in June, media reports, citing undisclosed sources, indicated that the United States had discovered a solution to procure TNT from Japan to produce 155mm shells. 

Meanwhile, Secretary Austin praised Japan for its existing non-lethal military support to Ukraine and expressed appreciation for additional assistance. However, the specific quantity of munitions that Japan can provide and their delivery timing has yet to be established.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense said a definitive decision regarding supplying artillery shells to the United States or Ukraine has yet to be reached.

The ministry stated that discussions are underway with the United States but declined to provide specific details about the nature of those discussions.

Since the onset of the Russian invasion, Japan has extended non-lethal military aid to Ukraine through body armor, helmets, and other equipment. However, the country has refrained from supplying weapons due to self-imposed restrictions.

The Japanese government adopted arms export restrictions during the 1960s, explicitly prohibiting the transfer of lethal weapons to other countries.

While the potential supply of artillery shells does not entail the direct deployment of lethal weapons on the battlefield, it remains a politically sensitive issue in Japan. Many voters in Japan prefer to avoid involvement in foreign conflicts, making any decision regarding such supplies a delicate matter.

Russia, Ukraine Look At Asia For Help

In the Ukraine conflict, artillery has emerged as a key element of warfare. Russian and Ukrainian forces have extensively utilized artillery, making it a defining aspect of the ongoing conflict.

Russia is reportedly firing around 20,000 rounds per day, and Ukraine firing between 4,000 to 7,000 rounds daily. This has placed considerable strain on the stockpiles of US and European allies providing ammunition to Ukraine, while Russia faces similar difficulties due to sanctions imposed by the West. 

Amid this situation, both sides have unexpectedly turned to Asia as a crucial source for acquiring the necessary artillery shells in this protracted war.

In the event of successful negotiations with the United States, Japan has the potential to join the ranks of Asian countries, assisting in the ongoing war. 

Japan’s neighbor, South Korea, reportedly plans to transfer “hundreds of thousands” of artillery rounds to Ukraine under a confidential arrangement with the US. The rounds will be sent to the US, which will arrange their shipment to reinforce Kyiv’s counter-offensive against Russian forces.

155-mm shells for the M777 howitzers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. May 2022. Photo credits: Armed Forces of Ukraine

Furthermore, in August 2022, open-source researchers documented a series of flights conducted by British RAF C-17 transport aircraft originating from Pakistan, which disclosed Pakistan’s alleged involvement in supplying ammunition to Ukraine. 

Russia also has sought support from its Asian partners. Since last year, North Korea has been in the news for allegedly supplying Russia with a “significant” quantity of artillery shells intended for use against Ukraine.

Some reports also suggest that Russia is secretly buying back tank and missile parts it sold to India and Myanmar to repair and modernize its equipment and weapons for the conflict in Ukraine.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had allegedly transported a significant quantity of artillery shells, around 300,000, and approximately one million rounds of ammunition to Russia through cargo ships in the Caspian Sea. Besides, Iran is known to have supplied Moscow with Shahed suicide drones, which have become a big headache for Ukraine.

Earlier this year, the Afghan Taliban was also said to be contemplating the possibility of sending arms left behind by the United States in Afghanistan to Russia. But, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby later stated that he could not confirm the validity of this report.

Meanwhile, China remains Russia’s biggest and most powerful supporter, and the West has repeatedly urged Beijing not to provide lethal arms to Moscow.

As Ukraine intensifies its counter-offensive operations, the increasing demand for ammunition and weapon systems pushes both sides to seek assistance from their Asian allies in any available capacity to support the ongoing war effort.