‘Dramatic’ North Korea-Russia rail traffic increase hints at arms supply to Putin as carriages more than triple

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Recent satellite photos show a sharp increase in rail traffic along the North Korea-Russia border, indicating the North is supplying munitions to Russia, according to a US think tank.
Speculation about a possible North Korean plan to refill Russia’s munition stores drained in its protracted war with Ukraine flared last month, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un travelled to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin and visit key military sites. Foreign officials suspect Kim is seeking sophisticated Russian weapons technologies in return for the munitions to boost his nuclear programme.

Seoul wary as North Korea seeks to arm Russia in exchange for military technology

“Given that Kim and Putin discussed some military exchanges and cooperation at their recent summit, the dramatic increase in rail traffic likely indicates North Korea’s supply of arms and munitions to Russia,” Beyond Parallel, a website run by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said in a report on Friday.

“However, the extensive use of tarps to cover the shipping crates/containers and equipment makes it impossible to conclusively identify what is seen at the Tumangang Rail Facility” on the border, it said.

The report said satellite images as of October 5 captured “a dramatic and unprecedented level of freight railcar traffic” at the Tumangang Rail Facility. It said images show around 73 carriages while a review of previous satellite images over the past five years shows about 20 carriages at this facility at most.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un arrives by rail after crossing the border into Russia last month to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP
US and South Korean officials have warned that North Korea and Russia would face consequences if they went ahead with the reported weapons transfer deal in violation of UN Security Council resolutions that ban all weapons trade involving North Korea.

Since last year, the US has accused North Korea of providing ammunition, artillery shells and rockets to Russia, likely many of them copies of Soviet-era munitions. South Korean officials said North Korean weapons provided to Russia had already been used in Ukraine.

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