Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Advancing North Korean Artillery Deal

The White House on Wednesday said it has “new information” that a secret deal sending artillery ammunition from North Korea to Russia is “actively advancing.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean despot Kim Jong Un “have exchanged letters, pledging to increase their bilateral cooperation,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday morning.

The information was developed after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea last month to “try to convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia,” Kirby said.

Since then, another group of Russian officials visited North Korea to discuss potential arms deals between the two nations, Kirby said, adding that “high-level discussions may continue in the coming months.”

Under these potential deals, “Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions” from North Korea, “which the Russian military plans to use in Ukraine.”

The deal likely goes beyond just artillery ammunition, said Kirby.

Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive “is a gunfight and both sides are are blazing away with artillery so we know that artillery is one of those items, but it’s multiple levels of types of munitions.”

The 155-mm M109 self-propelled howitzer fires onto Russian positions near the occupied Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on August 17, 2023 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. (Photo by Roman Chop/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

With its pre-war stocks declining, Russia is firing between 5,000 and 10,000 rounds per day, retired Marine Col. Mark Cancian, who worked at the Office of Management and Budget on Pentagon procurement programs and is now a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic & International Studies, told The War Zone Wednesday.

Ukrainians are firing artillery shells at a similar rate now that “are receiving a lot of cluster munitions to beef up their inventories,” Cancian added.

Ukrainian soldier of the Aidar battalion, carries a shell for D-30 artillery on the frontline in the direction of Bakhmut as Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 14, 2023. (Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The potential deals between Moscow and Pyongyang “could also include the provision of raw materials that would assist Russia’s defense industrial base,” said Kirby. “Again, I’d remind you our export controls and sanctions are very much targeted at trying to eliminate Russia’s ability to have those kinds of raw materials and basic ingredients to to provide to their military manufacturing capability.”

An arms deal between North Korea and Russia “would directly violate a number of UN Security Council resolutions. We’re continuing to monitor this situation closely.”

As we have noted in the past, Russia has received a “substantial amount” of ammunition from North Korea, according to U.S. officials.

It appears a lot more may be on the way and North Korea has massive stockpiles of many types of artillery shells and pieces/launchers that Russia could tap into tilt the critical indirect fire balance on the battlefield.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, Ukraine says it is continuing to gain ground in Zaporizhzhia Oblast as it pushes toward Melitopol.

Ukrainian forces were “successful” in advances along the Novodanilivka – Novoprokopivka and Mala Tokmachka – Verbove lines, spokesman of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Andriy Kovalev said Wednesday, according to the Ukrainian Military Media Center (MMC).

Meanwhile, the fight on the eastern front, in the Kharkiv and Donetsk oblasts “remains difficult,” Commander of the Ground Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said, according to the MMC.

“Our units continue to hold back the enemy’s offensive in the Kupiansk [Kharkiv Oblast]-Lyman [Donetsk Oblast] direction,” he said. “The fiercest battles are taking place in the areas of the settlements of Raihorodka and Kovalivka, where the enemy, despite losses, is trying to break through the defense of our troops, using assault units on armored vehicles.”

At the same time, “the enemy is regrouping and introducing new units from the territory of the Russian Federation with the aim of increasing the number and fighting capacity of its troops.”

Near war-torn Bakhmut, “fierce battles take place every day,” he said. “The enemy is trying to regain lost positions at any cost, counterattacking our units several times a day.”

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) said that in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, its forces repelled Ukrainian advance attempts near Robotyne and Verbove. They also claimed to have fought off Ukrainian attempts to advance near Kupiansk as well as Lyman.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday claimed that in separate incidents, its combat aircraft destroyed six Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea, killing more than 50 troops.

In one incident east of Snake Island, an Su-24 Fencer “destroyed another [Armed Forces of Ukraine] AFU boat with its crew,” the Russian MoD claimed.

In a second incident east of Snake Island, an Su-30 Flanker “destroyed an AFU high-speed military boat with its crew.”

The Russian MoD said that around midnight Moscow time, “the Black Sea Fleet naval aviation’s aircraft destroyed four high-speed military boats with landing groups of the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces’ servicemen with a total number of up to 50 people in the waters of the Black Sea.”

The Russians offered no proof of any of these claims and no imagery has emerged on social media to support them.

The claims did however engender a humorous response on Twitter.

Some Ukrainian pilots who have gone to Denmark to learn to fly F-16s are now ready to begin flight training, Ukrainian Gen. Valeri Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, said Wednesday. 

Zaluzhny said Danish Defense Chief Gen. Flemming Lentfer told him that “some of our pilots have already successfully completed preparatory measures and can begin flight training.”

In addition, the two men agreed with Danish partners to start work on logistics to ensure the maintenance and repair of F-16 fighters in Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff Telegram channel.

Zaluzhny also thanked “the entire Danish people and the government for the decision to transfer 19 F-16 aircraft to Ukraine and comprehensive support in the fight against the Russian aggressor.”

You can read more about the Danish decision to transfer F-16s to Ukraine in our story here.

Ukrainian Gen. Valeri Zaluzhny (left) spoke with Danish Defense Chief Gen. Flemming Lentfer about the training of Ukrainian pilots in Denmark. (Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff photo)

Meanwhile, at an informal meeting of European Union defense ministers in Toledo, Spain, Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollengren on Tuesday announced that Romania will host an F-16 training center for Ukrainian pilots and maintainers. That agreement formalizes a plan we reported on back in June.

Ollengren said that training by representatives from Lockheed Martin, makers of the Viper, will take place in Romania while the Netherlands will provide an unspecified number of F-16s.

The Netherlands, which has 42 F-16s, has also promised an unspecified number to Ukraine. You can read more about that in our story here.

You can also read more about the international effort to train Ukrainian pilots and maintainers on the F-16s, including in the U.S., in our story here.

Germany on Wednesday updated the list of military equipment it has provided to Ukraine.

The latest tranche includes 10 Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks, one TRML-4D surveillance radar system, 16 Vector reconnaissance drones, more than 13 million rounds of small arms ammunition, several trucks and a field hospital.

With his military facing increasing shortages of equipment and ammunition as its all-out war in Ukraine drags on, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday inspected a state defense industry facility in the Tula region.

Shoigu toured the production facilities of JSC Concern VKO ‘Almaz-Antey’, which produces modern radar systems, the Russian Defense Ministry said on its Telegram channel Wednesday.

Company head Yan Novikov “reported to Sergei Shoigu on increasing production rates and deliveries of modern counter-battery warfare systems to formations and units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation performing tasks in the special military operation zone,” the Russian MoD claimed. Lack of counter-battery radar systems have been a chronic issue for Russian forces.

At least two Kyiv residents were killed in what officials are calling the most powerful attack on the capital in months.

Initially, Russians launched a barrage of drones, followed by missiles, Serhiy Popko, head of the KMVA, said on his Telegram Wednesday.

The Ukrainian Air Force said Russians attacked with 28 air-launched cruise missiles and 16 Shahed-136 drones and that all the cruise missiles and all but one drone were destroyed.

“Anti-aircraft defense worked along the route of tracking missiles and drones in a number of regions of Ukraine,” the Ukrainian Air Force said on its Telegram channel. “Anti-aircraft missile forces, fighter aircraft, mobile fire groups and other means of attack are involved in repelling an air attack.”

However, in Kyiv, “falling debris was recorded in several districts. Unfortunately, people died. In the Shevchenkivsky district…pieces of Rashist rockets killed two people, another was injured. Also, as a result of falling rocket remnants, destruction and fires occurred,” said Popko.

The Russian MoD claimed its forces “launched a group strike with long-range air- and sea-based precision weapons against enemy command and reconnaissance posts. The goals of the strike have been reached. All the assigned targets have been neutralized.”

Yesterday we told you that new low-resolution satellite imagery confirmed a Ukrainian claim that Russia is sinking vessels along the Kerch Bridge to form a protective barrier against future uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attacks.

Today, we obtained a high-resolution image from Planet Labs that shows the vessels that were partially sunk are anchored barges. As independent naval warfare analyst HI Sutton (@covertshores) told us yesterday, Russia will likely try to build netting between and even fencing on top of those barges to deter Ukrainian USV attacks. Sutton had previously confirmed the sunken-vessel barrier claim. You can read more about this effort in our story here.

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The late Wagner Private Military Company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash last week, has been buried in a private ceremony in St. Petersburg, his press service said on Tuesday.

“Farewell to Evgeny Viktorovich took place in a closed format. Those wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoe cemetery,” in St. Petersburg, a Prigozhin-connected Telegram channel posted.

Prigozhin – who launched and then called off a march on Moscow in late June and nine others, including his right-hand man Dmitry Utkin, perished when their Embraer Legacy 600 business jet plummeted into the ground.

Even with hundreds of miles of trenches and ditches dug out across southern and eastern Ukraine, Russian troops have a hard time hiding from the ubiquity of Ukrainian drones. In the case of this video below, Russian soldiers try to hide in a treeline from a Ukrainian drone, which drops munitions on their position, sending them scattering. It appears at least one Russian soldier in the trench was injured by the blast. But you can also see from this video the tremendous challenge facing Ukraine’s counteroffensive. There are numerous such trenches and fortified treelines, like this one paralleling railroad tracks, that need to be overcome or bypassed.

And finally, the old saying claims cats have nine lives. But sometimes, as in the case of the cat in this video who avoided triggering a landmine, felines are smart enough to avoid danger in the first place.

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

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.

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