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Photos Show Russian Forces in Ukraine Using North Korean Artillery Shells
New imagery indicates that North Korea has supplied weapons to Russia for its ongoing war in Ukraine. This comes after weeks of speculation following September 13 talks between Presidents Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin in Russia’s far eastern Primorsky Krai. Just one day prior, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Russia was being supplied with weapons from North Korea following his latest trip to Pyongyang. This comes amid reports that both Russian and Ukrainian forces are struggling with artillery shortages that are forcing both sides to seek further supplies from international partners.
The photos seemingly show North Korean 122mm and 152mm HE-FRAG projectiles in the possession of Russian artillerymen. Russia has relied heavily on artillery shells for its ongoing war in Ukraine: Russian forces fired 10–11 million shells in 2022 alone, which inflicted an estimated 80–90% of casualties against Ukrainian forces. Britain’s Ministry of Defence announced in March that Russia was likely facing an artillery shortage, and one anonymous Western official claimed that Moscow plans to increase its shell production by some two million units as a result. In one example, Russian defense contractor Krasnopol has announced plans for a 25-fold increase in its production of 155mm M2 shells in 2024. However, these efforts are believed to be insufficient, causing Moscow to seek out imports.
North Korea is believed to possess large stockpiles of Soviet-era artillery and rockets that would be compatible with Russia’s current delivery systems. However, Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies has noted that the size of these stockpiles and their current condition is unclear, as is North Korea’s capacity for further output. Nonetheless, Dempsey stated that North Korea “may represent the single biggest source of compatible legacy artillery ammunition outside Russia, including domestic facilities to further supplies”.
Ukraine’s own shortage of artillery shells has caused Western countries to struggle to provide it with the supplies needed to continue its ongoing counteroffensive. Although Washington has provided Ukrainian forces with cluster munitions to alleviate the potential shortfall, officials have warned that the U.S. is approaching its limit as to how many more NATO standard 155mm shells it can provide to Ukraine. On October 19, three Israeli sources confirmed that the Pentagon will now send tens of thousands of 155mm shells that were originally destined for Ukraine to Israel: although U.S. officials claim that this will have no impact on Ukraine’s ability to fight Russian troops, it is clear that both sides are struggling to procure enough shells for the conflict.