Ukraine Situation Report: 1M North Korean Artillery Rounds Sent To Russia, Seoul Says

The National Intelligence Service (NIS), the chief intelligence agency of South Korea, said in a briefing today that it assesses that North Korea has so far sent more than 10 shipments of munitions to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine. Arms supplied by Pyongyang to Moscow are said to include more than one million artillery rounds, according to the NIS.

There are meanwhile more reports emerging that Russia may have provided North Korea with satellite launch technology to help it pursue its burgeoning ambitions in space. There had previously been predictions, including from The War Zone, that Pyongyang and Moscow might come to an arrangement whereby Russia supplied missile and/or spaceflight technology, or other high-end military assistance, in exchange for a supply of North Korean weapons — especially artillery ammunition — for use in Ukraine. Either way, such an arrangement with Russia is almost certain to bring benefits to North Korea’s fast-developing ballistic missile capabilities.

Those predictions now appear to be coming true, with the NIS also claiming that North Korea has sent advisers to Russia to provide training in the use of the munitions. The enormous demand for artillery ammunition, however, means that the shipments provided so far will be enough for only around two months’ worth of shelling, the NIS believes. Still, Pyongyang has some of the world’s largest stockpiles of artillery shells and rockets and a significant domestic production capacity. At the same time, many of these munitions are interoperable with weapons used by Russia.

Already, South Korea had voiced its concerns about Pyongyang benefiting from “Any science and technology cooperation that contributes to nuclear weapons and missile development, including satellite systems that involve ballistic missile technologies.”

Before getting into the rest of the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up with our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered a firm rebuttal to critics of the slow pace of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, launched back in June intending to reclaim Russian-occupied territory. In his regular video address last night, Zelensky urged against expecting too much success too quickly, as the counteroffensive continues in the east and south of the country.

“We live in a world that gets used to success too quickly. When the full-scale invasion began, many people around the world did not believe that Ukraine would survive,” Zelensky said.

So far, Kyiv’s counteroffensive has made only slow progress, with heavily defended Russian positions proving very tough to break through. As a result, most of the roughly 620-mile front line has seen little movement and criticism has been leveled at the Ukrainian Armed Forces, mostly from Western observers.

“Some people believe this is a Hollywood movie and expect results now. It’s not,” Zelensky told the BBC back in June. “What’s at stake is people’s lives.”

Now, Ukrainian officials are warning that Russia is preparing for a new series of attacks across different sections of the front. According to Zelensky, the areas around Avdiivka and Kupiansk have been discussed at length with his senior commanders, with much of the Russian offensive having been focused here in recent weeks.

Vitaliy Barabash, the head of the military administration in the eastern city of Avdiivka, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting of late, has said that he expects another round of Russian attacks, as Moscow continues an assault that has been ongoing since mid-October.

As the embedded tweets below indicate, Russia has been taking very heavy losses in the fighting around Avdiivka. The U.K. Ministry of Defense last week stated that “Russia has probably committed elements of up to eight brigades to the sector. These elements have likely suffered some of Russia’s highest casualty rates of 2023 so far.”

According to Russian accounts, which have been reported by Reuters but not verified, the Kremlin’s forces have recently conducted successful attacks near Bakhmut — this city was laid siege to over many months before finally falling to the Russians in May.

While the situation on the ground is clearly difficult for Ukraine, Zelensky used his latest address to the nation to draw attention to the success of its operations against the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

“Now, the incredible things our people, our soldiers, are doing are perceived as a given,” Zelensky said. “Ukraine’s success in the battle for the Black Sea is what will be in history textbooks, though it’s not discussed as often now.”

In the last couple of months, Ukraine has targeted high-profile Russian Navy objectives in and around Crimea, including the dry dock at the naval port of Sevastopol that contained a submarine and amphibious landing ship, as well as the headquarters and also a command post belonging to the Black Sea Fleet.

Undoubtedly, Ukrainian attacks against Crimea have been stepped up as of late, involving missiles and drones, and being calculated to not only hit critical targets but also to deliver symbolic blows against the Russian-occupied peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Following last week’s announcement that Ukrainian F-16 pilots have begun training in the United States, the Netherlands now says that the first of the Vipers it’s donating will arrive at a training center in Romania in the next two weeks.

“I expect the Patriot missiles to be delivered shortly, to aid Ukraine in the upcoming winter. And the same speed applies to the F-16s,” outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, during a recent video conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Dutch have already pledged to deliver additional Patriot missiles to help thwart an expected spike in Russian airstrikes this winter.

“The first [F-16s] will be shipped to the training center in Romania within the next two weeks so that day we will get ready for further training,” Rutte added.

“What is happening now in Gaza and the terrorist attack on Israel and all the follow-up from that will not, shall not, and cannot distract us from what is happening between you and Russia, the fact that you are fighting off the Russian aggression,” Rutte said.

“We have to make sure that the world is able to focus both on Ukraine and of course is involved very much of what is happening now in the Middle East.”

As well as the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Belgium have also announced they will give F-16 jets to Ukraine.

A Dutch F-16AM Viper fighter. Royal Netherlands Air Force

Multiple reports and rumors suggest that Russia is facing increasing problems in recruiting military personnel to fight in Ukraine.

According to a report in the Kyiv Independent, the Wagner Group private military company is said to have resumed recruiting in the Russian cities of Perm and Novosibirsk although it has now been restructured as a unit of Rosgvardia, Russia’s National Guard. These allegations first began to appear from local news sites in Russia.

The report suggests that the group is now headed up by Pavel Prigozhin, the son of the founder of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in a plane crash under mysterious circumstances, after launching a coup attempt in Russia.

“We recruit those who already have combat experience, including those who have already been members of the PMC [private military company],” one of the recruiters reportedly said.

The same recruiter says that Wagner has abandoned its previous policy of drawing recruits from prisons. However, unconfirmed accounts from Russian military bloggers suggest that Russia is still very much making use of penal units in Ukraine. According to one such account, such units — known as Storm-Z — often bear the brunt of attrition, sometimes losing between 40 and 70 percent of personnel, since they are considered less valuable than regular troops.

Russian drone attacks against Ukraine continue, including strikes directed against the Kremenchuk oil refinery in central Ukraine. The latest attack on this objective set the refinery ablaze and knocked out the power supply in three villages, local officials said, according to a report from Reuters.

The energy ministry confirmed on Telegram that three villages in the Poltava region lost electricity supply after power lines and an unnamed infrastructure facility were damaged.

“Ten legal entities and almost 500 household consumers were disconnected,” the ministry said.

The Kremenchuk oil refinery has repeatedly been targeted, although Ukraine claims that the site is not operational.

“[The fire] has been extinguished. The situation is under control,” Filip Pronin, head of the Poltava region’s military administration, said on Telegram, adding that there were no reports yet of casualties as officials sought to gather more details of the destruction.

“The focus of the attack was the Poltava region, it was attacked in several waves,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said. The Ukrainian Air Force said that its air defenses shot down 18 out of 20 Shahed-type drones and one missile launched across the country overnight by Russia.

In the central Kirovohrad region, railway power lines were damaged by falling debris, according to the local governor Andriy Raikovych. The damage is said to have been repaired quickly.

Russia also struck overnight in the Kherson region of eastern Ukraine, which was captured by Russian forces early on in the war before they withdrew last year. According to local officials, the latest attacks in Kherson killed one person and injured two others.

“Again, an apocalyptic picture is all around: broken glass, torn window frames, mutilated houses. People talk about their experiences with trembling in their voices,” the regional governor, Oleksandr Prokudin, posted on Telegram today.

In Nikopol, meanwhile, a 59-year-old woman was killed in a drone strike that injured four people, according to the regional governor, Serhiy Lysak. These claims are yet to be independently verified.

In a statement, a leading United Nations official said that Russian strikes were inflicting “unimaginable suffering” on the people of Ukraine and that more than 18 million Ukrainians — 40 percent of the population — needed humanitarian assistance.

Ramesh Rajasingham, the director of coordination in the U.N. Humanitarian Office, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the organization has formally verified 9,900 civilians killed since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. He added that “the actual number is certainly higher.”

In related news, the U.N. Human Rights Office says it has found “reasonable grounds” to conclude that a missile strike that killed 59 people in a cafe in the Ukrainian village of Hroza on October 5 was launched by Russia’s armed forces. The strike was reported at the time as one of the deadliest single incidents for civilians in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion began.

While longer-range Russian drones continue to strike targets across Ukraine, the effectiveness of smaller Russian uncrewed aircraft on the battlefield is the subject of the latest intelligence update from the U.K. Ministry of Defense.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense says that the Russian Lancet loitering munitions — which it describes as a small one-way-attack uncrewed aerial system, or OWA UAV — “have highly likely been one of the most effective new capabilities that Russia has fielded in Ukraine” over the last year.

In its latest intelligence update, the U.K. Ministry of Defense wrote on X, formerly Twitter:

It is designed to be piloted over enemy territory, waiting until a target is identified, before diving towards it and detonating.

Lancets are manufactured by the ZALA Aero Group. ZALA also makes the small, unarmed Orlan 10 UAV which Russia often deploys alongside Lancet to spot targets. Ukraine has also experienced success with small OWA UAVs.

Russia deploys Lancets to attack priority targets and they have become increasingly prominent in the key counter-battery fight, striking enemy artillery.

Traditionally, Russia has used small UAVs mainly for reconnaissance. With its attack capability, Lancet has been a step change in how Russia uses this category of weapons.

Elsewhere, another recent product of the Russian defense industry, the 9K333 Verba man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) has been found to contain Swiss-made electronic components, according to a Ukrainian defense website.

The Militarnyi website cites anonymous specialists within the Ukrainian Defense Forces, who claim that a power converter from the Swiss company Traco Power was found in the optical seeker head of a 9M336 missile used in the Verba system.

On the Ukrainian side, the prospects of more, and advanced Western weapons arriving before too long seem to have improved, with news that senators from both U.S. parties have shown support for additional funding for Ukraine. President Joe Biden had requested a $106-billion aid package to be split between Ukraine and Israel, but also including funds to boost competition with China in the Indo-Pacific, as well as security along the U.S. border with Mexico. Previously, a House Republican plan had sought to split that package.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the Republican bill would not survive the upper chamber, even if it passed the House. “The bottom line is it’s not a serious proposal,” Schumer told reporters. Biden threatened to veto the bill if it were to pass.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said “We need to treat all four of these areas, all four of them, Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and the border,” he told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has warned that Russia will be successful in Ukraine unless Washington’s support for Kyiv continues. “I can guarantee that without our support, Putin will be successful,” Austin said during a Senate hearing on Biden’s request for security funding plans.

On the battlefield, meanwhile, there has been a spate of videos posted to social media showing heavy fighting around the village of Krynky, near the east bank of the Dnipro River, in the Kherson region. In a recent intelligence assessment, the U.K. Ministry of Defense stated that “It is almost certain that repelling Ukrainian attacks across the Dnipro and holding territory in occupied Kherson Oblast remains a high-priority objective for Russian forces in Ukraine.”

Among the videos from Krynky, the one below is especially interesting, apparently showing Ukrainian Marines using small rubber boats to move around a swamp while under Russian fire.

The Russian Aerospace Forces fleet of An-124 Condor strategic airlifters has been notably busy of late, although the reasons behind this remain unclear. Flight-tracking data reveals that An-124s have completed flights from mainland Russia to the highly strategic exclave of Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, four days in a row. Highly militarized, Kaliningrad is home to a wide variety of assets, including combat aircraft, short-range ballistic missiles, and long-range air defense systems, among others.

In more Russian Aerospace Forces news, it appears that the debut Ukrainian combat use of the U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, against two airbases in Russian-occupied Ukraine likely hit as many as 16 helicopters. This is based on imagery analysis from Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) research institute. These findings indicate that 16 Russian helicopters were either destroyed or damaged in the missile attacks, including at least four Ka-52 Hokum attack helicopters.

To finish up our latest coverage, two different sides of the story of the Leopard 2 main battle tank in service with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The first tweet shows the apparent loss of a Leopard 2 somewhere near Avdiivka, including the improvised slat-armor screens along the sides of the turret, apparently intended to protect against high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) attacks, as used by anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The second tweet shows another kind of countermeasure intended to help the Leopards survive on the battlefield, namely the first dummy versions of the tank that we have seen so far in Ukrainian hands.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there is more news to report about Ukraine.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.