Russia-North Korea military cooperation under UN spotlight

A representative from the prosecutor's office shows parts of an unidentified missile, which Ukrainian authorities believe to have been made in North Korea and used in a strike in Kharkiv earlier this week, Jan 6, 2024. [Reuters]

Russia’s military cooperation with North Korea to further its war in Ukraine is drawing international condemnation, including at the U.N. Security Council, where Russia is a permanent member.

U.N. Security Council members Britain, France, Japan, Malta, South Korea, Slovenia, and the United States, plus Ukraine, on Wednesday condemned three waves of deadly airstrikes by Russia on December 30, January 2 and 6.

“These heinous attacks were conducted, in part, using ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launchers procured from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK],” the group said in a statement.

Last week, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the attacks were a “significant and concerning escalation."

Citing newly declassified intelligence, Kirby said Russian forces launched at least one of the North Korean-supplied missiles on December 30, which landed in an open field in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine.

Both Moscow and Pyongyang have previously denied the weapons allegations.

At a Security Council meeting about the situation in Ukraine on Wednesday, Russia’s envoy cited an unnamed Ukrainian air force official as saying Kyiv had no evidence the Kremlin is using North Korean missiles in Ukraine.

“The U.S. seems to be spreading information that is wrong, without going to the trouble of checking this beforehand,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said of Kirby.

Washington’s alternate representative for Special Political Affairs noted that the United Nation’s confirmed death toll in the nearly two-year-old war has reached 10,000 Ukrainian civilians, including more than 560 children.

“This number continues to grow as Russia’s air attacks have intensified,” Ambassador Robert Wood said, adding that it is “abhorrent” that a permanent council member is “flagrantly violating” council resolutions to attack another U.N. member state.

Several council resolutions prohibit North Korea from developing a ballistic missile program, as well as banning it from exporting arms or related material to other states.

“By exporting missiles to Russia, the DPRK used Ukraine as a test site of its nuclear-capable missiles, in wanton disregard of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and safety of the Ukrainian people,” South Korean Ambassador Hwang Joonkook said.

He said some weapons experts assess that the missiles used in Ukraine are KN-23, which North Korea claims can deliver nuclear warheads. He told the council that one such missile flew 460 kilometers – the same distance as between the North Korean city of Wonsan, a typical launch site, and South Korea’s largest port city, Busan.

“From the ROK [Republic of Korea] standpoint, it amounts to a simulated attack,” Hwang said. “And as these launches provide valuable technical and military insights to the DPRK, it can be further encouraged to export ballistic missiles to other countries and rake in new revenue to further finance its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

He urged the council to respond.

Japan’s envoy said not only did North Korea and Russia’s actions violate council resolutions, but they also risk destabilizing the region.

“It is a totally outrageous situation that the international community is demanding the observance of Security Council resolutions by a permanent member of the Security Council,” said Ambassador Yamazaki Kazuyuki.

Ukraine’s envoy said an investigation is underway to verify the origins of the remnants of a missile that fell in the Kharkiv region on January 6.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with 48 other foreign ministers and the EU High Representative, condemned the DPRK’s export and Russia’s procurement of DPRK ballistic missiles, as well as Russia’s recent use of these missiles against Ukraine.

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