According to U.S. intelligence, Russia is buying "millions of artillery shells and rockets" from North Korea, which may indicate both the impact of Western sanctions on the Russian military-industrial complex and its inability to produce a sufficient number of even the most basic of weapons for its war against Ukraine, The New York Times reported on Sept. 5, having analyzed recently declassified US intelligence.
"After something of a lull in the disclosures, the American government has once again begun declassifying information to highlight the struggles of Russia’s military, including the recent intelligence about the purchase of Iranian drones and the Russian army’s problems recruiting soldiers," the U.S. publication wrote.
According to U.S. officials, Russia's decision to turn to rogue states — Iran and now North Korea — is a sign that sanctions and export controls imposed by the United States and Europe are preventing Moscow from exhaustively supplying its military with the necessary equipment and ammunition.
Washington has not yet announced exact data on what kind of weapons Russia is purchasing from North Korea, when these purchases took place, and what their volume is. However, a U.S. official has indicated the Russians are likely looking at short-range missiles and artillery shells, and Moscow will probably try to purchase additional unspecified North Korean equipment in the future. North Korea has significant stockpiles of ammunition, although the condition of the shells remains unclear, the publication noted.
The assessments of military experts interviewed by the NYT are unequivocal: purchases of weapons in North Korea indicate serious problems within the Russian army.
"The Kremlin should be alarmed that it has to buy anything at all from North Korea," said Mason Clark, head of the Russia team at the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War.
A DC official said that the new agreement with Pyongyang shows "Mos-cow's desperation". Frederick Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that the request for military aid to North Korea is a sign that Russia is probably not capable of producing even the simplest matériel needed to wage war against Ukraine.
"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 believes.
At the same time, he doubts that purchases of artillery shells in North Korea are connected with export restrictions on the supply of Western equipment to Russia. There is nothing high-tech about the 152 mm artillery shells or rocket launchers similar to the Soviet Katyusha produced in North Korea, Kagan points out.
However, U.S. officials insist that the sanctions of Europe and the United States have proven to be quite effective with regard to the ability of Russia to restore its armed forces after significant losses in Ukraine. First of all, due to the fact that Moscow was blocked from buying weapons or electronics for the production of new ones.
Moscow initially hoped that China would be ready to violate these sanctions and continue supplies to the Russian army, the NYT states. However, Beijing still adheres to export restrictions and is not trying to sell military materiel to Moscow. The U.S. has repeatedly warned China that if the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation — China's largest maker of computer chips — or other companies violate sanctions against Russia, Washington will deny them access to American technology that Chinese companies need to make semiconductors.
In the end, Russia has had to focus its efforts on concluding agreements with Iran and North Korea — countries that are also under severe Western sanctions and have nothing to lose from cooperation with Moscow.
However, any deal to buy arms from North Korea by Russia would be a violation of UN resolutions aimed at curbing Pyongyang's military might.
Limiting Russia's military supply chain is at the core of the U.S. strategy to weaken Moscow, the NYT states. Over the past few months, both the course of the war in Ukraine and newly declassified U.S. intelligence have shown that Russia has problems with high-tech weapons.
"Russian stocks of those precision weapons have also been depleted, forcing generals to rely less often on missiles and instead build their strategy around a brutal artillery assault that has laid waste to towns in Ukraine’s eastern region," the publication notes.
New reports that Russia needs more ammunition for its artillery "is a sign that Moscow’s supply problems are likely deeper than just high-end components for cutting-edge tanks or precision missiles." If Russia is looking for artillery shells in North Korea, it is probably already short of them or may face shortages in the future, and its industry does not seem to be able to cover all the needs of the war.
"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.
The NYT also points to recent indications that the effectiveness of some Russian artillery shells has decreased due to storage problems or poor maintenance of the ammunition arsenals.
"To be most effective at wounding opposing troops, artillery shells burst in the air, just before they hit the ground,” the NYT writes.
“But the crater pattern created by Russian artillery forces over the summer showed that many of their shells were exploding on the ground, reducing the damage to Ukrainian trenches.”