North Korean Troops to Support Russia in Ukraine: A New Phase in the Conflict?

Amid rising geopolitical tensions, North Korea's recent missile tests and provocative balloon campaigns against South Korea, coupled with its growing military alliance with Russia, signal a significant escalation

by Sededin Dedovic
North Korean Troops to Support Russia in Ukraine: A New Phase in the Conflict?
© Pool / Getty Images

North Korea has tested the capability of its missiles with multiple warheads, while simultaneously sending dozens of balloons loaded with trash that landed in the south. Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in recent years, reports AFP.

Pyongyang is intensifying weapons testing while bombarding South Korea with trash-filled balloons, claiming they are retaliating for similar rockets that South Korean activists sent to the north. Incheon Airport, Seoul's main hub, had to close on Wednesday because of the balloons.

In response to the consecutive launches, South Korea has completely suspended the military agreement to reduce tensions and resumed propaganda broadcasts and shooting exercises near the border. North Korea claims to have "successfully conducted a test of the separation control and guidance of individual mobile warheads," the state-run Korean Central News Agency announced on Thursday, June 27.

South Korea's military said that North Korea's test on Wednesday looked like the launch of a hypersonic missile, but the launch ended with an explosion in the air. Hong Min, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, says that missile technology with multiple warheads represents the ultimate goal for nations seeking missiles to carry nuclear warheads.

It appears that the North "is testing such technology step by step over the long term," he told AFP. "It looks like they are making technological progress in the early stages of developing missiles with multiple warheads." The United States and Seoul frequently accuse North Korea of supplying Russia with ammunition and missiles for the war in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Pyongyang last week on a high-level state visit, highlighting his growing ties with leader Kim Jong Un.

People watch a television broadcast reporting a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir P© Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

The two signed a "breakthrough" agreement that included a promise that, in the event of an attack, the two countries would help each other.

South Korea, which last week announced it would "reconsider" its long-standing policy prohibiting direct supply of weapons to Ukraine, announced on Thursday that it would impose unilateral sanctions against four Russian ships and eight North Korean individuals for weapons deliveries and oil transfers between the two countries.

Flash Balloons

For three consecutive days, North Korea has been sending hundreds of balloons carrying trash towards the south, in a tit-for-tat propaganda campaign. Seoul's military reported that about 70 balloons had landed by Thursday morning, mostly in the northern province of Gyeonggi-do and the Seoul area, and that the contents were not dangerous.

"The payload is about ten kilograms, so there is a risk if the balloons descend rapidly," the South Korean military stated, adding that they are prepared to respond. South Korea's Marine Corps resumed live-fire exercises on Wednesday on islands near the western border between the two Koreas.

South Korea and the US organized joint air exercises on Wednesday involving around 30 aircraft, including Washington's advanced stealth fighter jet F-22 Raptor. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol visited an American aircraft carrier that arrived in the country this week for joint military exercises aimed at countering North Korean threats.

The exercises, taking place from Thursday to Saturday, include Washington's nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Tokyo's guided-missile destroyer JS Atago, and Seoul's KF-16 fighter jets, reports RFE/RL.

North Korea is militarily supporting Russia in its aggression and invasion of Ukraine

Next month, North Korean soldiers are expected to arrive in Ukraine to show support for Russia in the war, Pyongyang announced this week, just a few days after Russian leader Vladimir Putin visited North Korea's capital.

The two countries signed an agreement obligating mutual military assistance in cases of war or invasion, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used as an opportunity to send troops to Europe. North Korean soldiers are expected to assist the Russians in Donetsk as early as July.

So far, North Korea has helped Russia with nearly two million pieces of ammunition, rockets for multiple rocket systems, and reportedly several ballistic missiles. Despite the already well-known cooperation between these two leaders, sending soldiers will be a new step, leading experts to question whether this could mean a possible escalation of the conflict.

"If I were in the position of the North Korean military leadership, I would reconsider my decision to send my forces as cannon fodder in the illegal war against Ukraine – we have seen the types of losses Russian forces are experiencing," commented Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder when asked by reporters if sending soldiers would mean their certain death, reports the Kyiv Post.

The escalating military provocations and alliances among North Korea, Russia, and South Korea highlight a deepening geopolitical tension with potentially severe global implications.

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