As Russians struggle to maintain a steady source of ammunition and artillery, they look to their Asian neighbor North Korea for arms.

A US intelligence official disclosed an ongoing deal for Russians to purchase rockets and artillery shells worth millions. The official added that they could even source most of their equipment from North Korea as Russia plans for a long war.

One of the reasons Russia has limited sourcing is because of the global sanctions placed on them since the war started. To date, Russia holds the most world sanctions in history, overlapping North Korea. Still, Russia is looking for new allies as it turns to Iran and North Korea when it comes to artillery shipments.

Russia’s purchase from North Korea also came after they received the initial shipments of Iranian-made drones, amounting to hundreds of new aerial war machines on Russia’s inventory. According to US officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, these new drones will be used so Russia can deploy air-to-surface attacks and disrupt Ukrainian electronics. The drones will also be used to identify and locate targets.

Russia, as much as they’d like to unilaterally rely on Iran for weapons, they did not have a seamless transaction at the beginning. Moreover, security officials in the US monitoring the trade said that the early tests of Iranian-supplied weaponry resulted in numerous failures.

“There are a few bugs in the system,” said an allied security official. “The Russians are not satisfied.”

Mohajer 6
Mohajer-6 UAV with serial number P071A-020 and Qaem missile seen during the Eqtedar 40 defense exhibition in Tehran. (Source: Mohsen Ranginkaman/Wikimedia)

The Iranians initially delivered the Mohajer-6 and the Shahed-series drones, which are believed to just be the first of many installments to the Russian army. These drones would ideally fill the gap in the Russian military, which has fewer attack drones than the Ukrainians. However, this gives them a massive disadvantage on terrain attack/defense positions since the Ukrainians have better surveillance drones (supplied by the US).

“These Iranian drones have not operated in a sophisticated air-defense environment before,” he said. “The closest they’ve come to that is [Houthi strikes against] Saudi Arabia or against US bases in Iraq, and they have generally not done well. So I wouldn’t be surprised that, in a more intense environment like Ukraine, that they would have some problems,” said Michael Knights, a military and security expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Now, Kremlin is expanding its resources, but analysts are saying they should be cautious.

“The Kremlin should be alarmed that it has to buy anything at all from North Korea,” said Mason Clark, who leads the Russian team at the Institute for the Study of War.

The White House started declassifying intelligence reports about Kremlin’s military plans even before the invasion of Ukraine. The US hoped that by disclosing Putin’s plans, they could disrupt them from moving forward. The new report about the Russian acquisition of North Korean weapons has been, again, declassified, as well as their struggles to recruit soldiers for their military.

BM-13 Katyusha
A BM-13 Katyusha Multiple Rocket Launcher in Armenia (Source: AdAstra77/Wikimedia)

Moreover, many are skeptical about how much North Korean weaponry would improve Russia’s current position. Frederick W. Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said this deal was Russia’s sign that they could not produce “the simplest matériel needed to wage war.” North Korea is not necessarily a high-tech arms producer. The best they could supply Russia were 152-millimeter artillery shells or the Katyusha-style rocket.

“The only reason the Kremlin should have to buy artillery shells or rockets from North Korea or anyone is because Putin has been unwilling or unable to mobilize the Russian economy for war at even the most basic level,” Kagan said.

Another possible analysis of this Russian deal is a deeper supply problem within their military.

“If Russia is seeking more artillery shells from North Korea, it is facing a shortage or could see one in the future, and its industrial base is struggling to meet the military demands of the war,” as noted by New York Times.

“This is very likely an indication of a massive failure of the Russian military industrial complex that likely has deep roots and very serious implications for the Russian armed forces,” Kagan said.

As of writing, the conditions of these North Korean artillery shells are undefined. However, there are limited reports pertaining to a surplus of North Korean ammunition as well as their state.