U.S. Accuses Russia of Deploying North Korean Ballistic Missiles
The White House announced on January 4th that Russia has acquired and used North Korean short range ballistic missiles in recent attacks across Ukraine. Sources say multiple Russian military units have been equipped with North Korean missiles and launchers over the past several months to help Russia continue its bombardment campaign as its stockpile of precision guided munitions dwindles .
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated “We are sharing this information today to spotlight the debilitating dependency Russia’s defense-industrial sector is facing in trying to sustain that war machine” . Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, accused Russia of violating U.N. Security Council resolutions restricting member states from purchasing North Korean weapons .
Senior U.S. officials report that in November 2022, North Korea covertly sent a significant number Ballistic missiles and launchers to Russia via rail and road routes. A U.S. official said it was difficult to determine whether the weapons transfer violated U.N. resolutions because the equipment was basic and not using advanced technology restricted for export .
Russia Seeking Long Range Missiles From Iran
Intelligence reports also indicate that Russia intends to purchase additional Iranian short and medium range ballistic missiles for attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and energy facilities. One U.S. official called it “appalling” that Russia would buy missiles from two major international pariah states, Iran and North Korea .
Washington believes Russia wants to acquire hundreds of Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran, capable of striking cities across eastern and southern Ukraine from launch sites within Russia-controlled territory .
Reactions from North Korea, Russia and Other Nations
North Korea and Russia have not commented publicly on the U.S. allegations. North Korea is likely concealing its involvement to avoid condemnation and further international sanctions.
The UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated that North Korea’s apparent willingness to arm Russia shows the desperation of Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine . Shapps said “What it does show is Russia, under the Putin doctrine, scraping the barrel of other nasty regimes to try and prop up their illegal war” .
South Korea expressed concern over the missile transfer reports given the sensitivity of proliferation issues. A South Korean official said Seoul will explore measures to prevent North Korea from exporting weapons for money while violating U.N. resolutions .
Impact of North Korean Missiles on the War
Experts say North Korea may have provided its KN-23 missile to Russia, a short range ballistic missile modeled after Russia’s Iskander . With advanced maneuverable reentry vehicle technology, the KN-23 poses challenges for Ukrainian air defenses designed to counter older Soviet-era missiles.
The White House assesses that Russia has faced logistical challenges deploying the North Korean equipment on a large scale. But even in limited numbers, these missiles expand Russia’s capacity to strike infrastructure across Ukraine .
Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, stated on Twitter that Russia knows sanctions mean its own missile weapons production can’t meet the scale of the war. He said “This is only the beginning” and Russia will turn into a “global toxic arms dealer” as it loses leverage .
|Type of Support to Russia
|Short range ballistic missiles and launchers
|Potential sale of short and medium range missiles
Will Western Support for Kyiv Waver?
Observers anticipate that news of Russia gaining reinforcements from North Korea and Iran could test Western unity on maintaining support for Ukraine . There is concern that some European and American politicians may use the development to further argue for restricting aid to Kyiv or pushing Ukraine to negotiate with Russia.
Jake Sullivan reiterated that the U.S. will not waver on its commitment to providing economic and military assistance so Ukraine can continue defending itself and recover occupied territory:
“We will continue that support unabated going forward for as long as it takes. And we will continue to galvanize the international communities’ opposition to this Russian aggression” .
Calls for Increased Sanctions Enforcement
Along with the allegations against Russia, the U.S. levied sanctions on three entities connected to North Korea’s weapons program for facilitating Russia’s violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Britain and France have indicated they will explore imposing additional sanctions as well .
Analysts argue that lack of consistent enforcement has muted the impact of sanctions on Russia. Imposing costs on enablers like North Korea is necessary, and restrictions directly targeting Russia’s fragile defense industry supply chain could ground its air campaign .
There is also pressure for China and India to limit business partnerships enabling sanctions evasion. Sullivan said “The world should be united that no country should be supplying weapons to be used by Russia in its illegal war in Ukraine” .
What Comes Next in the Conflict
Militarily, Russia integrating more advanced missiles further threatens Ukraine’s critical infrastructure like power plants and dams. Hitting these sites near the start of winter has already brought immense hardship.
Strategically, Russia’s reliance on states like North Korea and Iran reveals the vulnerability of its weapons production to satisfy war demands. Its inability to sustain bombardment campaigns with domestic production shows stabilization or recovery is unlikely .
Diplomatically, revelations of Russia’s great dependence have dealt humiliation to Putin and his bid to assert Russia as a military superpower. But experts warn it may push him towards further risky escalations like broader attacks deep within Ukraine rather than serious peace negotiations .
Overall the conflict trajectory remains highly uncertain. For now, Russia seems set on attempting to wear down Ukraine through persistent strikes on civilian sites using reinforced munitions. Western backers emphasize this only hardens their resolve to provide economic and military aid enabling Ukraine’s continued defense.
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