Defense & National Security — US: Russia buying equipment from North Korea

·7 min read

The U.S. assesses that Russia is purchasing rockets and artillery shells from North Korea in a bid to bolster its forces as Moscow’s war against Ukraine drags on.

We’ll break down the assessment. Plus, we’ll look at the warning from 13 top Pentagon officials about the threat of political polarization.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

North Korea selling military equipment to Russia

Russia’s Ministry of Defense is purchasing millions of rockets and artillery shells from North Korea to bolster its forces in Moscow’s war in Ukraine, according to a U.S. official.

The official told The Hill that the assessment, which is based on downgraded
U.S. intelligence, is a sign of Moscow suffering from “severe” military supply shortages driven in part by export controls and economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. anticipates Russia purchasing more North Korean military equipment in the future, the official said, without providing additional details on what type of equipment. The New York Times was first to report on intelligence suggesting Moscow was buying North Korean equipment.

Russian-North Korean ties: Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to deepen relations with North Korea, which is isolated due to international sanctions over its nuclear program, following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

  • The United Nations currently bars Pyongyang from importing or exporting arms from or to other countries, meaning that the sale of rockets and artillery shells to Russia would violate that arms embargo. 

  • Ukraine, meanwhile, has relied on billions of dollars in equipment from the U.S. and other nations to supplement its own military as it fights back against the Russian onslaught.

Who else has Russia turned to? Russia has also turned to Iran to bolster its weapons stockpile. Biden administration officials said in late August that Tehran had transported its first shipment of Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series drones to Russia for use on the battlefield in Ukraine but cited information suggesting they have experienced mechanical failures.

Word from the Pentagon: Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed the U.S. had “indications that Russia has approached North Korea to request ammunition.”

  • “I’m not able to provide any more detail than that at this point in time, but it does demonstrate and is indicative of the situation that Russia finds itself in, in terms of its logistics and sustainment capabilities as it relates to Ukraine,” he said during a Tuesday press briefing. 

  • “Certainly, as has been said, we assess that things are not going well on that front for Russia, the fact that they’re reaching out to North Korea is a sign that they’re having some challenges on the sustainment front.”

Read the full story here.

Former leaders warn of political polarization

Thirteen former defense leaders on Tuesday warned that political polarization is straining the relationship between civilians and the military.

The open letter, signed by eight former Defense secretaries and five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warns of an “an exceptionally challenging civil-military environment” exacerbated by geopolitical, social and political issues.

The signatories: The letter was signed by former Defense Secretaries James Mattis, Mark Esper, Ashton Carter, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, William Perry and William Cohen.

Retired Gens. Martin Dempsey, Joseph Dunford Jr., Peter Pace and Richard Myers signed as former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with retired Adm. Mike Mullen.

A quiet shot at Trump: The former secretaries, retired generals and retired admiral don’t mention a particular political party, but indirectly call out former President Trump’s resistance to the 2020 presidential election results and the transfer of power to now-President Biden.

“Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt,” reads the letter, published on the national security website War on the Rocks.

The military in partisan politics: The signatories note that “military officers swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, not an oath of fealty to an individual or to an office” and that civilian control is shared by all three government branches.

  • “There are significant limits on the public role of military personnel in partisan politics. … Members of the military accept limits on the public expression of their private views — limits that would be unconstitutional if imposed on other citizens. Military and civilian leaders must be diligent about keeping the military separate from partisan political activity.” 

  • The letter also affirms that elected civilians “have the right to be wrong … even if other voices warn in advance that the proposed action is a mistake” and that military officials must carry out legal orders even if they doubt the action.

Read the full story here.

Minuteman III test scheduled for Wednesday

The U.S. military will hold a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wednesday, less than a month after the last such test, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson said Tuesday.

Air Force Global Strike Command will hold an “operational test launch” of an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM in the early morning of Sept. 7 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.

About Minuteman III: Minuteman III ICBMs are located in underground silos in five Western states and are tested several times a year. The missiles have a range of more than 6,000 miles and can travel up to 15,000 miles per hour.

The last test: The Minuteman III, which is capable of holding a nuclear payload, was last tested on Aug. 16 after being delayed for nearly two weeks due to increased tensions with China over Taiwan.

  • Ryder said that the launch is being held less than a month after the last such test due to the delay of the previous launch moving the dates closer together.

  • In the past year, test launches of the Minuteman III have been pushed back several times thanks to U.S. tensions with Russia over Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, as well as stresses between Washington and Beijing in relation to Taiwan.

A ‘routine launch:’ “This launch is a routine test which was scheduled far in advance and consistent with previous tests. This ICBM launch will validate and verify effectiveness and readiness of the system,” Ryder said.

He added that the United States has given the Russian government an advanced notice of the launch, in accordance with standard procedures.

Read the full story here.


  • The 2022 Billington Cybersecurity Summit will begin 8:25 a.m.

  • The Air & Space Forces Association will host a fireside chat with Lt. Gen. James Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, at 8:30 a.m.

  • The Center for a New American Security will host an event on “Taiwan, Cross-Strait Relations, and an Evolving World” at 9:30 a.m.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on “Why We Fight: A Conversation with Dr. Chris Blattman” at 10 a.m.

  • The American Enterprise Institute will host an event “Discussing the Coming Conflict with China” at 10 a.m.

  • Defense One will host an event on “State of Defense” at 11 a.m.

  • George Washington University will hold a discussion on “Russian Sharp Power in Action: The Case of Latvia” at 11 a.m.

  • The Association of the U.S. Army will host its Noon Report on “Pivot to Readiness with Army Medicine” at 12 p.m.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold an event on “Report Launch: Software-Defined Warfare” at 2 p.m.

  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will hold a discussion on “A Fresh Look at Russian Public Opinion on the War in Ukraine” at 2:15 p.m.


That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!


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