North Korea is actively smuggling weapons to Russia and other countries, according to multiple sources inside the country recently.
“The government’s weapons exports have increased recently,” a Daily NK source in North Korea said on August 31, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “Not only Russia, but many other countries are asking for our weapons.”
According to the source, recent importers of North Korean weapons include Russia, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Qatar.
The source explained that the weapons are usually smuggled aboard ships on the high seas. In most of the states in question, armed groups operating within those states purchase the weapons, which are then transported to China hidden in cargo ships carrying ore. From China, they are shipped to third countries.
Officials from the Defense Ministry’s General Equipment Bureau and the Munitions Industry Department’s Second Economic Commission have been dispatched to China, where they largely serve as middlemen to facilitate arms smuggling, the source said.
The biggest recent purchaser of North Korean weaponry is Russia. North Korea ships weapons directly to Russia rather than indirectly through other countries, exporting them by train or ship from the port of Rason.
North Korea mostly sells ammunition and artillery shells to Russia, though 7.62mm and 5.45mm automatic rifles are major export items as well.
The United States has repeatedly accused North Korea of sending weapons to Russia to aid the latter’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. North Korea has denied the U.S. claim, although Pyongyang is open about its rhetorical support for Moscow in the war.
Rodong Sinmun reported on August 6 that leader Kim Jong Un paid onsite guidance visits to key munitions factories from August 3 to 5, including a production factory for large-caliber multiple launch platforms. The media published photos of Kim inspecting weapons himself, including a 7.62mm rifle.
“The party has directed that North Korea receive wheat, gas, and oil from Russia in return for the weapons, and to not accept rubles – the value of which has collapsed since the war – when taking cash payments,” the source told Daily NK.
Another source inside North Korea claimed that the North Korean government recently received blueprints and process charts for nuclear-related application technologies as payment for weapon sales.
However, North Korea adheres to a principle of refusing to sell new weapon systems recently produced in the country’s munitions factories to overseas customers.
Multiple sources told Daily NK that North Korea is selling older weapons in its existing stocks to overseas customers as it replaces the Korean People’s Army’s stockpiles with new weapons.
“Not only the KPA, but also the militia, Worker-Peasant Red Guards, Red Youth Guards, and other groups are modernizing their weapons, and all the old weapons these organizations had can be exported overseas,” one of the sources told Daily NK.
On a related note, Daily NK reported in late August that after Kim Jong Un’s tour of key munitions factories, workers at the plants received provisions of food, including rice, cooking oil, and liquor. In return, they were instructed to “repay the Supreme Leader with loyalty by keeping the factories going at full capacity to boost production.”
This article first appeared in Daily NK, which contacts multiple sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The Diplomat was not able to verify the claims independently.