The White House accused North Korea on Thursday of providing Russia with ballistic missiles that Moscow has begun to fire on targets in Ukraine, and said that in return the North was seeking a range of Russian military technologies.
The North Korean-produced missiles, with a range of 550 miles, were shipped to Russia in violation of United Nations restrictions on the North, the White House said as it made public recently declassified intelligence findings. The government of Kim Jong-un regularly ignores the missile restrictions.
John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said that some of the first of the North Korean-made missiles were fired into Ukraine on Tuesday, though it was unclear how much damage they might have done. In recent weeks, Russia has stepped up its missile and drone attacks against civilian targets and infrastructure in Kyiv and other cities, intent on trying to erode Ukraine’s will to fight at a moment when Ukraine is running short on missiles and ammunition of its own.
Such a move by North Korea poses two major challenges to the United States. It suggests that Russia is bolstering its own production of missiles with new supplies at a time when Congress is still holding up additional aid to Ukraine, including for artillery and air defense systems. And it suggests that Russia, which once cooperated with the United States in trying to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, is now considering helping the North develop better delivery systems.
Russia has rebuilt its own domestic supply of cruise missiles, and shorter-range missiles and artillery, despite Western financial sanctions and export controls. But to keep up with the intensity of the barrage against Ukraine, it has been turning to North Korea and Iran. Mr. Kirby said that the range of the missiles now being shipped from North Korea meant that they could be launched from well inside Russia — where launch sites are harder for Ukraine to hit — and still reach a number of Ukrainian cities.
The technology North Korea is seeking includes fighter jets and ballistic-missile launch technology, Mr. Kirby said. Other American officials have reported that the North is also seeking more help on the range and accuracy of its intercontinental ballistic missiles, which it has repeatedly tested in recent months. But it is not clear whether Russia has agreed to further help the North on these nuclear-capable missiles. In the past, North Korea has relied heavily on what appeared to be Russian missile designs, but it has never been clear how closely it has worked with Russian engineers.
The Biden administration has pressed lawmakers on Capitol Hill to provide $50 billion more to Ukraine to help fund its military operations this year. Republican opposition has been growing, with party leaders saying they will support additional aid only if the Biden administration makes significant concessions on border policy.
Mr. Kirby, speaking at the White House, made the case on Thursday that the missile shipments to Russia underscored the need to pass new aid to the Ukrainians. The White House contends there is virtually nothing left from last year’s arms packages. And Mr. Kirby contended that American credibility was at stake.
“Do you know who else is watching? Vladimir Putin, and President Xi in Beijing,” he said. “They are watching to see whether or not the United States really will prove to be a reliable partner.”
There was no immediate comment from North Korea or Russia about the announcement from the White House.
Russia has been stepping up attacks on civilian infrastructure in recent weeks. Mr. Kirby said “massive bombardments” of drones and missiles had hit a maternity hospital, shopping mall and residential areas, “killing dozens of innocent people and injuring hundreds more.”
North Korea and Russia have been discussing increased arms sales since a visit by Mr. Kim to Russia in September. Since then North Korea has shipped hundreds of containers of artillery shells to Russia. But the impact of these munitions on the battlefield has been muted. Many of the shells, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials, have been old and performed poorly, with a high dud rate.
Lara Jakes contributed reporting from Rome, and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.
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