Satellite images show spike in border activity as North Korea ‘supplies weapons to Russia’ for Ukraine war

By Isaac M October 9, 2023

The North Korea-Russia border is seeing a sharp increase in rail traffic in likely signs of Kim Jong-un helping Russian president Vladimir Putin by supplying munitions, a US think-tank claimed, citing recent satellite photos.

Satellite images from 5 October showed a “dramatic and unprecedented level of freight railcar traffic” at the Tumangang Rail Facility, according to Beyond Parallel, a website run by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Approximately 73 railcars were visible in the images from last week, whereas previous satellite pictures over the past five years showed about 20 railcars at this facility at the most.

It was not immediately clear what the contents of the railway shipments were as the shipping crates were covered under tarpaulin.

This was likely a follow-up action after the North Korean leader met with his Russian counterpart in Russia’s far east last month, according to Beyond Parallel.

“Given that Kim and Putin discussed some military exchanges and cooperation at their recent summit, the dramatic increase in rail traffic likely indicates North Korea’s supply of arms and munitions to Russia,” it said on Friday.

“However, the extensive use of tarps to cover the shipping crates/containers and equipment makes it impossible to conclusively identify what is seen at the Tumangang Rail Facility” on the border, it said.

This comes at a time leaders and experts have warned against North Korea’s plan to assist Russia’s depleting munition reserves in its continuing invasion of Ukraine.

As Mr Kim met Mr Putin in Russia and visited key military sites and discussed strategic cooperation on defence, leaders speculated that North Korea could aid Moscow.

The North Korean leader could have sought sophisticated Russian weapons technologies to boost his nuclear programme in barter for the munition, foreign leaders said.

Officials in the US and South Korea warned North and Russia of consequences if they went ahead with the speculated weapons transfer deal in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions that ban all weapons trade involving Pyongyang which is under heavy sanctions for its nuclear weapons programme.

The White House has said Russia wants to buy “literally millions” of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea.

The reports of North Korea aiding Russia in invading Ukraine emerged last year when the US said the hermit kingdom was sending ammunition, artillery shells and rockets to Russia, with many of them copies of Soviet-era munitions.

Officials in South Korea said the weapons provided by the North have already been used in Ukraine.

“While access to such stocks of North may help Russia prolong the conflict, it is unlikely going to change the outcome,” according to Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The size of these stores and its degradation over time is less clear, as is the scale of ongoing production, but these stockpiles could help replenish those severely depleted in Ukraine,” he said.

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