American intelligence services have come up with the news that the Russian Ministry of Defense is buying millions of missiles and artillery shells from North Korea. According to a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Russia’s pivot toward the DPRK suggests that “the Russian military continues to suffer a severe shortage of supplies to Ukraine, in part as a result of export controls and sanctions.”
U.S. sources have not provided much detail about the exact equipment, timing or volume of the shipment, and there is no way to independently verify the deal yet. The US official only said that in addition to short-range missiles and artillery shells, Russia is expected to seek to purchase other North Korean equipment, writes the New York Times.
“The Kremlin should be worried about having to buy anything from North Korea at all,” Mason Clark, who heads the Russia team at the Institute for the Study of War, told the US daily.
While most of Europe and the West are turning their backs on dictator Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, Russia doesn’t really have a choice.
The North Korean regime recently blamed the crisis in Ukraine on the United States, saying the West’s “hegemonic policy” justifies Russia’s military action in Ukraine — for its own protection.
North Korea’s ambassador to Moscow recently met with envoys from two Russian-backed separatist territories in Ukraine’s Donbass and expressed optimism about “labor migration” cooperation. He thus indicated the relaxation of his country’s pandemic border controls.
Along with Russia and Syria, North Korea is the only country to recognize the self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, making it a de facto Russian ally in the war in Ukraine.
North Koreans will fix Donbas, Russia suggests
North Korea could send workers to restore two Russian-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DLR and LLR). It was suggested by the Russian ambassador in Pyongyang, Alexander Macegora. If this were to happen, it would present another challenge to the international community in enforcing sanctions against North Korea.
Small sanction victory
The White House began declassifying intelligence reports about Moscow’s military plans even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He later began to release these materials – first privately to allies, then to the public. After a certain pause, the Americans resumed the declassification in order to draw attention to the problems of the Russian army.
Russia pretends that the sanctions have not crippled it in any way. Energy prices, which have risen as a result of the invasion, are filling Russia’s coffers and allowing Moscow to mitigate the effects of cutting off its banks from international finance and restricting exports and imports.
Even sanctions against individual Russian oligarchs failed to weaken Vladimir Putin’s power.
But according to a confidential document obtained by Bloomberg, the Russian economy is collapsing and the country is unable to produce key products. Mining also faces problems.
Are sanctions bothering Russia?
Two of the three scenarios in the paper assume that the economic downturn will accelerate next year and the economy will return to pre-war levels by the end of the decade at the earliest. The most pessimistic scenario assumes that the economy will bottom out in 2024, when it will be 11.9 percent weaker than last year. All three scenarios assume that the pressure caused by sanctions will increase.
Actions by Europe and the United States have also been effective in Russia’s ability to maintain its military. The sanctions have blocked Russia’s ability to buy weapons or components to make them.
Moscow first saw hope in China. However, it has only shown a willingness to buy Russian oil at a significant discount, and it apparently tolerates export controls aimed at the Moscow army and the ban on the sale of military equipment.
Due to the caution of other countries, Russia has no choice but to rely on North Korea and Iran: countries that are themselves largely cut off from international trade due to US and international sanctions.
Neither country has anything to lose by concluding an agreement with Russia.
The war is testing the promised “friendship without borders” of Russia and China on all fronts. On paper, it may have been an equal agreement, but in practice it is obvious who has the upper hand.
Poor quality, but enough
But there is nothing cutting-edge about the 152-millimeter artillery shell or Katyusha rocket that North Korea produces, Frederick W. Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told the NYT.
The new agreement with North Korea shows not only Moscow’s desperation. Kagan adds that this is also a sign that Russia is apparently not capable of producing the simplest matter needed to wage war.
“The only reason the Kremlin should buy artillery shells or missiles from North Korea or anyone else is because Putin has been unwilling or unable to mobilize the Russian economy for war at even the most basic level,” Kagan said.
As the progress of Russian operations in Ukraine suggests, Moscow has problems mainly with high-end weapons. For example, cruise missiles show a high rate of failure. In the early stages of the war, more than half of these Russian weapons either failed to fire or missed their target.
The DPRK does not mess around with a show of force
In addition, due to their lack, Russian generals began to rely not on missiles, but on the strategy of brutal artillery attacks. How effective they were can be seen in the cities in the eastern regions of Ukraine.
The fact that Russia has turned to the DPRK may also be a sign that its supply problem is even deeper. “This is very likely indicative of a massive failure of the Russian military-industrial complex that is likely to have deep roots and very serious consequences for the Russian armed forces,” Kagan said.
In recent weeks, Ukraine has intensified its attack on Russian ammunition depots with the help of HIMARS. Although it is unclear what impact this offensive had, it at least forced Russia to withdraw and move its ammunition depots, reducing the effectiveness of its artillery forces.
There have also been indications that the effectiveness of some Russian artillery shells is reduced by improper storage and poor maintenance of ammunition stocks. To be most effective, artillery shells are supposed to detonate in the air, just before hitting the ground. However, the pattern of craters left behind by Russian artillery over the summer suggests that a significant proportion of its shells explode on the ground.
It is hard to say whether the North Korean artillery shells are qualitatively better, but the quantity is not the problem. Even so, it would not be the first time that the Russians got burned in foreign trade. They have already been disappointed by the drones bought from the Iranians.
According to the intelligence information of the American and other spy agencies, at the end of August, transport planes carrying at least two types of unmanned aerial vehicles of the Mohajer-6 and Shahed series arrived in Russia. Capable of carrying munitions to attack radars, artillery and other military targets, these drones are considered to be among Iran’s best military drones.
It could have been a significant help for the Russian army – if technical problems had not appeared. During the first tests, Iranian drones showed numerous malfunctions.
“There are several flaws in the system,” said an allied security official whose government closely monitored the transfer, according to the Washington Post. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and not to disclose his nationality to discuss sensitive intelligence. “The Russians are not happy,” he added.
By taking over hundreds of drones of various types, the Russians could patch up their own shortcomings. Russia has between 1,500 and 2,000 military surveillance drones, but relatively few attack drones that can accurately strike targets deep in enemy territory.
Iranian officials responded only indirectly to US claims about the upcoming delivery of unmanned aerial vehicles. Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani last month acknowledged “Iranian and Russian technological cooperation” but said Tehran preferred a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine.
Russia lacks almost everything. Not only domestic production of the necessary components, but also the people who would make them. After all, in Moscow this is also the case in the discussion about drones 1/ QUICK THREAD on the discussions about the role of Russian civilian and dual-use UAV technology, held during ARMY-2022 military expo and forum. Main points below. pic.twitter.com/ds6SATG7K1
: The shortage of technically educated professionals is a “direct threat to national security.”
1/ QUICK THREAD on the discussions about the role of Russian civilian and dual-use UAV technology, held during ARMY-2022 military expo and forum. Main points below. pic.twitter.com/ds6SATG7K1— Samuel Bendett (@SamBendett) August 23, 2022
Iran supplies military drones to armed proxy groups such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels. But very rarely, if ever, have these models been tested against the kinds of sophisticated electronic jammers and anti-aircraft systems used in Ukraine, Michael Knights, a military and security expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Washington Post.
“These Iranian drones have not yet operated in a sophisticated air defense environment,” he said. “The closest thing to that was the Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia or against US bases in Iraq, and they usually didn’t do well. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some problems in a more intense environment like Ukraine.”
Russia would apparently like to increase the production of drones on its own territory. However, it is prevented from doing so by Western sanctions and export controls, which have stopped the supply of the necessary semiconductor chips.
“They rely on the black market, but their needs are huge,” Dmitri Alperovitch, chairman of the Washington think tank Silverado Policy Accelerator, told WP.
“The chips are needed for everything from precision-guided missiles to aircraft to tanks, not to mention non-military items in their own domestic industries. So there is a lot of demand for chips in Russia, and if they can get ready-made drones from Iran, they don’t have to use their precious black market chip stocks to make their own drones,” Alperovitch added.