Russia looks to fellow pariahs North Korea and Iran for help in faltering war effort

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok, Russia, in 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON — As aid continues to flow to Ukraine from the West and its own military comes under increasing strain from a war now entering its ninth month, Russia is turning to d other pariahs of the international community for arms deliveries.

Last month’s attacks by Russia on Kyiv and other Ukrainian targets were carried out by Shahed-136 drones sent by Iranin violation of United Nations sanctions.

(Moscow and Tehran denied the origins of the drones, but Western observers were unconvinced.)

Now intelligence indicates that Russia is also receiving help from North Korea, another heavily sanctioned country that operates outside the bounds of international standards. North Korea “covertly supplies Russia’s war in Ukraine with significant numbers of artillery shells, while obscuring the true destination of the arms deliveries by trying to give the impression that they are heading for countries in the Middle East and North Africa”. Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday morning.

He did not specify which countries served as “stopover sites” for North Korean expeditions, although Iran and Syria would be obvious candidates. Kirby also declined to say how the United States obtained intelligence on the shipments or if efforts would be made to intercept future deliveries.

“We will obviously be consulting with our allies and partners, particularly at the UN, on additional accountability measures,” Kirby told reporters. In October, the UN voted with the rare near-unanimity condemn the illegal annexation by Russia of four Ukrainian territories. North Korea and Syria both voted against the measure.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine in February, he expected a quick victory culminating in regime change in Kyiv. Instead, he now finds himself in a bitter war that Ukraine is winning. through the innovative use of sophisticated Western weaponry.

Russian tanks damaged in recent fighting are seen near the recently recaptured village of Kamianka.

Russian tanks damaged in recent fighting were seen near the recently recaptured village of Kamianka in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Sunday. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Russia suffered astonishing losses as a result, with possibly up to 70,000 soldiers killed since the beginning of the conflict. Equipment losses were also staggering, with 1,183 tanks and 1,304 infantry fighting vehicles destroyed since the start of the war.

And with Russia’s own economy severely crippled by sanctions, it has sought help from rogue regimes like those in Tehran and Pyongyang.

In addition to drones, Iran may be preparing to send guided missiles to Russia, the Pentagon believes. “We are concerned that Russia may also seek to acquire additional advanced munitions capabilities from Iran – for example, surface-to-surface missiles – for use in Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said earlier this week.

Iran reportedly sent members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Crimea last month to help train the Russians to use their new Shahed-136 drones.

North Korea and Russia agreed to an ammunition sale several weeks ago; it is only now that this sale appears to have finally been executed.

“We don’t think it will change the tide of the war,” Kirby said of the shipment, although he said the number of shells was “not insignificant.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi shake hands in Tehran, Iran.

Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, Iran in July. (West Asia News Agency/Handout via Reuters)

Besides North Korea and Iran, Belarus is one of the few countries in the world ready to help Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: its authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, is a close ally of Putin.

China has notably refrained from efforts to punish or isolate Russia, and the two neighboring superpowers have maintained a strong business relationship. And although China and Russia also have close military tiesbeijing has so far shown little interest to help Putin on the battlefield.

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