"It does demonstrate and is indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in, in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine," says Pentagon press secretary.

The North's arms export to Russia would be a violation of UN resolutions that ban the country from exporting to or importing weapons from other countries.
The North's arms export to Russia would be a violation of UN resolutions that ban the country from exporting to or importing weapons from other countries. (Reuters Archive)

The Russian Ministry of Defense is in the process of purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea for its ongoing fight in Ukraine, according to a newly downgraded US intelligence finding.

Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Tuesday that "the information that we have is that Russia has specifically asked for ammunition." He said the US has seen indications Russia approached North Korea but said he had no other details, including whether money has changed hands or any shipments are in progress.

"It does demonstrate and is indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in, in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine," said Ryder, in the administration's first public comments on the intelligence assessment. "We assess that things are not going well on that front for Russia."

"Our sense is it could include literally millions of rounds, rockets and artillery shells from North Korea," said John Kirby, the White House national security spokesperson.

A US official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence determination, said on Monday that the fact Russia is turning to the isolated state of North Korea demonstrates that "the Russian military continues to suffer from severe supply shortages in Ukraine, due in part to export controls and sanctions."

US intelligence officials believe the Russians could look to purchase additional North Korean military equipment in the future. The intelligence finding was first reported by The New York Times.

Asked why the information was declassified, Ryder said it's relevant to illustrate the condition of Russia's ongoing military campaign in Ukraine. And, he added, it shows "they’re trying to reach out to international actors like Iran and North Korea that don’t have the best record when it comes to international stability."

READ MORE: Russia facing problems with Iran-made drones - US

North Koreans in Ukraine's Donbass

North Korea has sought to tighten relations with Russia as much of Europe and the West has pulled away, blaming the United States for the Ukraine crisis and decrying the West’s "hegemonic policy" as justifying military action by Russia in Ukraine to protect itself.

The North Koreans have hinted interest in sending construction workers to help rebuild Russian-occupied territories in the country's east.

North Korea's ambassador to Moscow recently met with envoys from two Russia-backed separatist territories in the Donbass region of Ukraine and expressed optimism about cooperation in the "field of labour migration," citing his country’s easing pandemic border controls.

In July, North Korea became the only nation aside from Russia and Syria to recognise the independence of the territories, Donetsk and Luhansk, further aligning with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.

The North's arms export to Russia would be a violation of UN resolutions that ban the country from exporting to or importing weapons from other countries. Its possible dispatch of labourers to the Russian-held territories in Ukraine would also breach a UN resolution that required all member states to repatriate all North Korean workers from their soil by 2019.

READ MORE: In a first, China, Russia defend North Korea veto at UN meeting

The US has frequently downgraded and made public intelligence findings throughout the grinding war in Ukraine to highlight plans for Russian misinformation operations or to throw attention to Moscow's difficulties in prosecuting the war. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim have recently exchanged letters in which they both called for "comprehensive" and "strategic and tactical" cooperation between the countries. 

Russia, along with China, has called for the easing of UN sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests. 

Some experts say that Kim could likely bolster his resolve to retain his nuclear weapons because he may think the Russian attack happened because Ukraine had signed away its nuclear arsenal.

Relations between Moscow and Pyongyang go back to the 1948 foundation of North Korea, as Soviet officials installed young, ambitious nationalist Kim Il-sung as the country’s first ruler. 

READ MORE: Russia, North Korea to 'expand' relations: Putin to Kim Jong-un

Source: TRTWorld and agencies