North Korea-Russia rail traffic surges, suggesting arms supply – think tank

SEOUL (Reuters) – Rail traffic along the North Korea-Russia border spiked this week to the highest in years, suggesting arms supply by Pyongyang to Moscow after their leaders discussed deeper military cooperation, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

Satellite imagery showed an “unprecedented” 73 or so freight cars at Tumangang Rail Station in the North Korean border city of Rason, the Beyond Parallel Project of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report.

The traffic was far greater than that observed in the past five years, including pre-pandemic levels, it said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a week-long summit in Russia’s Far East last month, discussing military matters, the war in Ukraine and deepening military and economic cooperation.

“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,” the think tank said, although it could not be sure due to the extensive use of tarps to cover the rail cars.

The U.S. and South Korea have warned military cooperation between North Korea and Russia was a violation of U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang. They expressed concern Moscow could seek ammunition from North Korea to prop up its dwindling stocks in its invasion of Ukraine, while Pyongyang could get technological aid for its spy satellite and missile programmes.

North Korea has slammed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for criticising Pyongyang’s cooperation after the summit, saying it was “natural” and “normal” for neighbours to keep close relations.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by William Mallard)