Will we see North Korean forces in eastern Ukraine? – The Diplomat


Reports from various Russian sources and the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine have indicated that North Korea may deploy its armed forces for operations in the Ukrainian theater. Pyongyang recognized and established diplomatic relations with the two breakaway republics on July 13, and it was reported days later that North Korean workers would be sent to support reconstruction efforts in eastern Ukraine. The East Asian state could also support and participate in the war crimes tribunals in Donetsk.

Reports of plans to send military personnel to Donetsk and Luhansk then emerged from the republican media, before being more widely broadcast on the state-run Channel One Russia television channel.

Although still to be confirmed, the possibility that North Korean forces will be deployed to some extent in Ukraine – although probably not as many as the 100,000 people announced by Donbass reports – remains significant based on past trends. Pyongyang’s overseas force deployments and benefits it, the contested republics, and Moscow itself could gain.

For North Korea, the contribution of forces to the Ukrainian war effort would be far from unprecedented, the country’s armed forces having fought in Vietnam against the United States and in multiple wars in the Middle East, mainly against various US-backed parties. North Korea has assisted US adversaries without front-line personnel input in multiple other conflicts, ranging from the South African border war to the Iran-Iraq war. In the latter, Pyongyang provided the Iranian military with the region’s longest-range artillery as well as the bulk of its ballistic missile arsenal. If Pyongyang thinks its forces can significantly influence the course of the war in Ukraine, that could go a long way in keeping the West’s attention focused on Eastern Europe, and thus away from East Asia. the East, while exerting additional pressure on the United States, with which it remains officially at war.

Participation would also provide valuable experience in the fight against Ukrainian forces, which have received tens of billions of dollars in NATO equipment and operate with US intelligence, advisers and training. Any North Korean deployment would likely be funded by Russia, potentially facilitating greater access to Russian goods, military hardware and other economic support. Greater experience alongside Russian forces could also be highly valued due to the shared borders and common adversaries the two countries face in East Asia.

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Unlike China and Iran, which have taken officially neutral positions in the Russian-Ukrainian war, undermining claims that either could supply drones or other equipment to the Russian military. , North Korea has sided strongly with Moscow. Along with Eritrea, Belarus and Syria, North Korea was one of four foreign countries to vote against condemning Russia’s military intervention at the United Nations. The country may therefore be the only source of foreign weapons available to Russia other than Belarus, because apart from China and Iran, North Korea is one of the few countries outside the sphere of Western influence with a large defense sector capable of providing significant advantages to Russia. forces.

While Beijing and Tehran are currently pushing to improve their relations with the Western world, North Korea has seen a much tougher line against it in decades by Western countries, and Pyongyang is so heavily sanctioned that there is much less to lose supporting Russia. the war effort and the strengthening of ties with Moscow and the Donbass. The possibility that it could help pave the way for greater economic integration with Russia, thereby undermining Western efforts to isolate the two economies, also remains significant.

Economic ties with Donetsk and Lugansk can also offer a range of significant opportunities. Since the breakaway regions are not UN member states, they will also not be required to follow UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea – leaving them among the only territories in the world. with which the East Asian state could trade freely. The supply of a wide range of North Korean goods and services, from expatriate workers to artillery systems, would not be prohibited as it would be for UN member states such as Russia.

North Korea’s special forces, military, and perhaps parts of its artillery forces are significantly larger than Russia’s, and its much greater focus on several specific areas of ground warfare l has led since the Cold War to eclipse the Russian military in a number. of key capabilities. A notable example, first highlighted on July 23, are its rocket artillery systems, namely the KN-09 and KN-25, both of which have longer ranges than any foreign rival outside from China. They have many times the range of their Russian counterparts or US HIMARS, which have caused significant problems for Russian forces since they were recently supplied to Ukraine.

Speaking on Channel One Russia, host Igor Korochenko was among those who indicated that North Korean artillery systems in particular could be useful in Ukraine and could be deployed to the front, saying: “If North Korean volunteers -Koreans with their artillery systems, wealth of experience with counter-battery warfare and large-caliber multiple launch systems, made in North Korea, want to participate in the conflict, well, let’s give the green light to their willful impulse… If North Korea expresses a desire to fulfill its international duty to fight against Ukrainian Fascism, we should let them.

North Korean artillery officers previously operated alongside the Syrian army in the Lebanon war and in counter-insurgency operations in the 2010s, and may be among the first troops deployed to eastern Syria. ‘Ukraine. Their impact would be particularly great if they were deployed alongside indigenous artillery systems, which could reach the Donbass via Russian territory.

Besides artillery units, North Korean special forces units could potentially play a key role in Ukraine after their reported deployment for counterinsurgency operations in Syria. North Korea deploys the largest special forces in the world with estimates ranging from 180,000 to 200,000. They have been described in British assessments as “highly motivated, politically well indoctrinated and well trained…. units are expected to constantly seek the initiative, to turn all unforeseen events to their advantage, and to advance all to achieve their objectives, whatever the cost. Two North Korean special forces units deployed to Syria in the 2010s were described by the leaders of the insurgency they were targeting as “deadly dangerous” on the battlefield. Trained to operate behind enemy lines against adversaries far better equipped and trained than the Ukrainian military, their deployment could have a significant impact on the battlefield depending on how effectively they can be integrated with Russian units and the Donbass.

References to North Korean personnel set to join the front as ‘volunteers’ indicate deployments may not be officially under the Korean People’s Army – the country’s armed forces – potentially reflecting China’s earlier intervention in the Korean War, when Beijing dispatched forces under the leadership of the People’s Army. Volunteers rather than the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. It could also be to avoid officially placing North Korea at war with Ukraine and its foreign backers.

The personnel deployments will nonetheless directly pit North Korean forces against those of the United States and other Western powers, with The New York Times calling the United States “laying down a stealth network of commandos and spies rushing to provide weapons, intelligence and training » Ukraine’s borders. “CIA personnel continued to operate secretly in the country, mainly in the capital, [Kyiv]directing much of the massive amounts of intelligence the United States shares with Ukrainian forces,” the Times continued.

“Commandos from other NATO countries, including Britain, France, Canada and Lithuania, also worked inside Ukraine…training and advising Ukrainian troops and providing driven to the field for arms and other aid,” he added, pointing to the sheer “magnitude of the covert effort to help Ukraine that is underway.”

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The extent of Western forces’ presence and operations in Ukraine was most recently highlighted in a report by the French magazine Causeur, citing intelligence sources in the country, while Russian government sources have consistently alleged an even deeper level of Western involvement in frontline operations. The result could well be head-to-head clashes between North Korean and Western personnel, with the former officially operating as volunteers and the latter as part of a ‘stealth network’ in support roles or as contractors. military.

North Korean and American forces have fought on opposite sides of multiple conflicts in the past, most recently in Syria. Ukraine is potentially the latest of many wars and one of the largest in terms of North Korean contributions, where the two have clashed in their ongoing 70-year conflict.

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