War in Ukraine | North Korean munitions, a helping hand for Moscow to last

(Paris) The North Korean munitions that Washington suspects Pyongyang of wanting to supply to Moscow would contribute to helping the Russian army in its war effort in Ukraine, without a very clear strategic link yet emerging between the two countries.

Diplomatically isolated, Russian President Vladimir Putin received with great fanfare Tuesday and Wednesday his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un, a meeting likely according to the United States to lead to an arms sales agreement.

Engaged in fighting since February 2022, Russia plans to produce 2.5 million artillery shells this year, compared to 1.7 million last year.

But “it is possible that the increase in Russia’s production capacities falls short of real needs on the battlefield”, where the Russian army consumes, according to Kyiv, between 40,000 and 60,000 artillery shells per day, underlines Yohann Michel, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), to AFP.

“Moscow needs imports to maintain the current level of operational intensity of its war effort in the long term,” adds the German Council on Foreign Relations in a study published Friday.

In fact, after turning to Iran to provide it with hundreds of explosive drones (or suicide drones), Russia could find useful resources from Pyongyang, which holds significant stocks of Soviet equipment – ​​albeit of good quality. very uncertain – and mass produces conventional weapons.

At the beginning of 2023, Washington had already accused Pyongyang of having given artillery shells to Moscow with a view to arming the Wagner paramilitary group, then deployed in Bakhmut (eastern Ukraine).

“The North Koreans have numerous artillery elements. This is the backbone of the strategy against South Korea and against the American army,” Maciej Szopa, military analyst for the Polish media Defense 24, told AFP.

“Weighting of interests”

Among the munitions in the North Korean arsenal that may be of interest to Russia are 122 mm caliber rockets intended for the Soviet-era BM-21 “Grad” multiple launch rocket launchers (MLRS), which equip Russian forces in Ukraine.

Pyongyang also has 152 mm D-20 manual towed artillery pieces, also manufactured in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and 122 mm D-30 howitzers dating from the 1960s.

In exchange, Pyongyang could be provided with Russian oil and food, and even access to space technologies.

On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of helping Kim build satellites, while Pyongyang recently failed twice to put a military spy satellite into orbit.

But for now, Vladimir Putin has remained evasive on a formal agreement with Pyongyang, saying only that he sees “prospects” of bilateral military cooperation.

North Korea, very isolated because of its nuclear and ballistic programs, could benefit greatly from this.

But “we must remain careful”, tempers Yohann Michel. “I think there may be interest in Russia. It remains to be seen whether there is any interest for North Korea, and whether what it demands in return is acceptable to the Russians,” he adds, highlighting outstanding questions about the “weighing of interests of the two countries.

In the unanimous opinion of experts, North Korean weapons, while allowing Russia to supplement its stocks, would not provide it with a decisive advantage in the Ukrainian theater. And military cooperation with this country under UN sanctions could cost Vladimir Putin dearly on the international diplomatic scene.

The display with Kim Jong-un could rather be a strategic signal to the attention of the Western camp, analysts note.

“Moscow has an interest in staging a rapprochement with Pyongyang, not necessarily in buying weapons,” warns on the social network X – formerly Twitter – Antoine Bondaz, expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS).

“On the Russian side, this communication strategy aims to put pressure on Seoul”, which “supplies arms to Ukraine indirectly, via Poland” and is NATO’s third arms supplier, he argues. in the French daily Le Monde.

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