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North Korea and Russia Accelerate Exchange of Weapons and Resources

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North Korea has shipped containers that could hold millions of artillery shells to Russia, a top South Korean official said, allowing President Vladimir Putin to maintain his assault on Ukraine as Kyiv’s stocks of ammunition dwindle.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik told reporters that North Korea is estimated to have sent about 6,700 containers to Russia, accelerating the pace of shipments since Putin held a summit with Kim Jong Un in September, Yonhap News reported Tuesday. The containers could hold about 3 million rounds of 152 mm shells, Shin said.

Russia in return is providing North Korea with food, raw materials and parts used in weapons manufacturing, Shin said. The food aid has helped Kim stabilize prices for necessities, he said, adding if the arms transfers grow, Russia is set to send more military technology to Kim, which could increase Pyongyang’s ability to threaten the region.

As North Korea-Russia trade picks up with the invasion now in its third year, the flow of U.S. military aid to Kyiv has been increasingly under threat. On top of this, the European Union has sent only about 30% of the total 1 million artillery shells it pledged to give Kyiv by March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week.

Read More: ‘This Is the Way Out’: Inside Ukraine’s Plan to Arm Itself

The Ukrainian leader said his country believes North Korea has transferred 1.5 million artillery shells to Russia and an unknown number of missiles, adding that Pyongyang is poised to continue providing weapons.

While North Korea and Russia deny any arms transfers, imagery from commercial satellites has shown about four cargo vessels shuttling between North Korea’s Najin port near the Russian border and the Russian port of Dunay, a former Soviet submarine port about 180 kilometers (110 miles) away. The White House said it has tracked some of those shipments as they traveled by rail across Russia to be stored in depots in Russia near Ukraine.

Cold War partners Russia and North Korea have forged a new partnership since the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion, built upon Pyongyang holding some of the world’s largest stocks of munitions that are interoperable with the weapons Moscow has deployed to the battlefield in Ukraine.

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. This will allow Kim to shun engagement with the U.S. for years to come, while at the same time enhancing his ability to deploy spy satellites and develop his nuclear arms program.

Read More: The World Must Keep a Wary Eye on North Korea

North Korea’s yearly economy is about $25 billion, according to estimates from South Korea’s central bank, and the country is in desperate need of food, oil, building materials and hard cash for international commerce. The weapons Kim is providing Russia are likely worth several billion dollars and the support he is receiving from Putin likely represents some of the biggest gains Kim has seen since he took power about a dozen years ago.

Putin has shown his appreciation, giving the North Korean leader a new Russian-made automobile. The vehicle was an Aurus limousine, similar to the one Putin showed Kim when they met in September in Russia for a trip that deepened their military cooperation.

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