Ukraine now ‘test site’ for North Korean missiles shipped to Russia, warns South Korea

North Korea is using Ukraine as a “test site” for its nuclear-armed missiles, officials in South Korea said amid reports that Kim Jong-un might sell new types of weaponry to his Russian ally Vladimir Putin.

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday, South Korean ambassador Hwang Joon-kook urged Russia to end its military cooperation with North Korea and also withdraw its military forces from the territory of Ukraine.

“By exporting missiles to Russia, the DPRK uses Ukraine as the test site of its nuclear-capable missiles,” the envoy told the gathering of international leaders in Washington, using the abbreviation for the official name of Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

North Korea has emerged as an increasingly important ally to Mr Putin after his decision to invade Ukraine left him otherwise largely isolated on the world stage.

Moscow has repeatedly fired North Korea-supplied missiles at Ukrainian targets in recent days, believed to be the first such incidents since Mr Kim and Mr Putin met to discuss arms deals and other increased cooperation.

Pyongyang is widely believed to be providing Moscow with arms supplies in exchange for Russian support with its struggling satellite launch programme.

Pointing to one of the missiles that flew 460km, covering distance between a North Korean launch site and South Korea’s Pusan city, Mr Hwang said: “Some experts assess that the missiles fired into Ukraine are KN-23s, which the DPRK claims can deliver nuclear warheads.

"From the ROK (South Korea) standpoint, it amounts to a simulated attack," the envoy said.

The UNSC session on maintenance of peace and security inside Ukraine amid Russia’s continuing invasion, saw widespread condemnation from the US and other nations over firing of North Korean missiles by Russian forces on Ukraine.

The Russian envoy present at the session did not directly deny the use of North Korean arms on Wednesday, but accused the US of spreading “wrong” information.

Any Russian use of North Korean arms will violate UN resolutions, deputy US ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, and other US allies said.

"It’s abhorrent that a permanent member of the UN Security Council is flagrantly violating Council resolutions to attack another UN member state, violations that further the suffering of the Ukrainian people, support Russia’s brutal war, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime," Mr Wood said.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya called the UNSC session an exercise in “anti-Russian propaganda”, familiar rhetoric used by Moscow to deflect from criticism of its war against Ukraine.

"Today, Western members of the Security Council repeated the ‘fact’ that the Russian military is using missiles from the DPRK in its special military operation in Ukraine," Mr Nebenzya said.

“So the US seems to be spreading information that is wrong without going through the trouble of checking this beforehand," he told the session.

It comes as the South Korean defence chief warned that its regional rival North may be set to provide a new type of missiles to Russia and also carry out weapons tests to escalate tensions ahead of the elections in South Korea and US this year.

“North Korea, which needs money, is actively selling new weapons that Russia wants,” defence minister Shin Won-sik said, citing Kim Jong-un’s visit to munitions factories earlier this week.

North Korea can sell at least some of its missiles to Russia, initially meant for its own frontline troops, the South Korean defence chief warned, citing Pyongyang’s suspected sales of short-range ballistic missiles.

Mr Shin warned that North Korea could also test solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missiles as early as this month and launch a long-range missile to further escalate tensions before key elections in South Korea and the US.

Last week, the White House used declassified documents and confirmed that Russia’s armed forces launched several North Korean-made ballistic missiles into Ukraine over the last week and could make further use of similar weapons in the coming days.

The US intelligence had indicated that Pyongyang had recently supplied the weapons — including several launchers and ballistic missiles – to the Russian government, which launched at least one of them into Ukrainian territory on 30 December.

That missile landed in an open field in the Zaphorizia region of Ukraine, the National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. He also said Russia launched “multiple” North Korea-made ballistic missiles into Ukraine during an “overnight aerial attack” on 2 January, and stressed that the impacts of those missiles is still being assessed.

Mr Kirby said Russia’s use of North Korean weaponry is evidence that Moscow “has become increasingly isolated on the world stage” and stressed that the US believes Russia “will use additional North Korean missiles to target Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and to kill innocent Ukrainian civilians”.