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North Korea stops sending shells to Russia, Seoul claims

The German Leopard 2 tank has a weak spot running down its middle, Ukraine soldiers say
The German Leopard 2 tank has a weak spot running down its middle, Ukraine soldiers say - Fabian Bimmer - Pool/Getty Images

Shipments of North Korean artillery shells to Russia that have given the Kremlin an edge on battlefields in Ukraine may have stopped, South Korean analysts believe.

Satellite photos show that the four Russian container ships used to pick up suspected arms supplies have not docked in North Korea since Feb 12.

“It is unclear if this is due to production problems at North Korea’s weapons factories or another issue,” said NK Pro, which researches North Korea and has studied the satellite photos. “North Korea does not appear to have delivered containers to the export pier during that time.”

The four Russian container ships have been named: the Lady R, the Angara, the Maia-1 and the Maria. NK Pro said that they had previously made 32 trips to North Korea since August when North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un agreed to arm Vladimir Putin in exchange for space technology.

The Lady R which has carried North Korean artillery shells to Russia docked in Cape Town, South Africa
The Lady R which has carried North Korean artillery shells to Russia docked in Cape Town, South Africa - NIC BOTHMA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It is believed that North Korea has sent up to three million shells to Russia, helping to give it a major advantage over Ukrainian forces who have complained of a lack of supplies from their Western allies.

Most of North Korea’s shells have been sent to Russia by ship, although NK Pro said that they may now have shifted onto its railway system.

“It also cannot be ruled out that weapons are being transferred to Russia by air or by rail,” it said.

As well as waiting for more arms supplies from the West, Ukrainian soldiers have also complained about some of the equipment given to them last year.

German tank fails

An unnamed Ukrainian soldier said that Germany-made Leopard-2 tanks may be mobile and equipped with powerful weapons but they need too much maintenance and have a weakness at the front of their armour.

“Between the turret and the hull, the upper and lower parts of the tank, there is a gap that urgently needs to be closed,” the tank driver told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Last month, Ukraine’s forces retreated from the destroyed town of Avdiivka in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and reports have now said that Russian forces are concentrating their fire on Chasiv Yar, five miles to the west of Bakhmut.

But, although Ukrainian forces are on the back foot across the front line in Donbas, they have scored some successes against Russia’s air force.

Last week, one of Russia’s A-50 spy planes crashed near the Sea of Azov, shot down either by Russian air defence missiles or a Ukrainian missile. The UK Ministry of Defence has now said that Russia may reduce its use of the spy plane.

“This is a capability gap Russia can ill afford over the contested airspace of eastern and southern Ukraine,” it said.