North Korea unloads shells for Russia in the Dunay near Vladivostok

The research group at Frontelligence Insight has meticulously examined the transport methods used to move projectiles from the DPRK to the Russian Federation. We’ve also looked into the three primary bases used for storage before these munitions are distributed to the forces on the frontline. 

North Korea unloads shells for Russia in the Danay near Vladivostok
Photo credit: Google Earth, Euromaidenpress

According to the findings from our in-depth study, these North Korean weapons begin their journey to the Russian Federation at Raijin port, situated in DPRK’s northeastern region. From there, container vessels travel to a small harbor near the village of Dunay, in Primorsky Krai [Konyushkov Bay], located close to Vladivostok. 

Containers arrive at Konyushkov Bay. Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Back in the late 1970s, during the era of the USSR, this bay housed the 9th Division of Diesel Submarines and also served as a weapons depot. This depot included ballistic and cruise missiles for strategic submarines named “Shkotovo-16”, although it was considered abandoned by 2021.

North Korea unloads shells for Russia in the Danay near Vladivostok
Photo credit: Euro Maidan

From the port to the railway stations

When it comes to convenience, this transport hub doesn’t hit the mark. From what we can see in satellite imagery as of June 2022, there’s not a crane in sight, and there’s no hint of a railway line near the piers. 

A study suggests that, given this scenario, container transportation requires some serious strategy. To get these containers onto railway platforms, they must first make an approximately one-kilometer journey by truck from the berths.

North Korea unloads shells for Russia in the Danay near Vladivostok
Photo credit: Euro Maidan

Three bases are hosts

In the Russian Federation, shells originating from the DPRK are typically transported to one of three rear bases. The first of these is the 719th base, located in the Tikhoretsk district of the Krasnodar Territory. Satellite imagery indicates that its expansion commenced around mid-August 2023. Given the circumstances, it appears that this base serves as the primary artillery ammunition depot for the Russian Federation. 

The second base is Mozdok, situated in North Ossetia. This location is reportedly where ballistic missiles are stored. However, the Frontelligence Insight OSINT group has not found any solid evidence of weapon transportation to this base. Interestingly, its proximity to the airport, which is home to Tu-22M3 bombers and MiG-31Ks, is worth noting. This airport also accommodates the Russian Air Force’s transport aircraft.  

North Korea unloads shells for Russia in the Danay near Vladivostok
Photo credit: Euro Maidan

The third base on our list is a new, quaint warehouse close to the Egorlitske village in the Rostov Region. Nestled within an abandoned airport’s premises, just three kilometers from the village, this base started seeing the initial construction of ammunition shelters in September 2023. 

Once the ammunition is in place, it is then distributed to various Russian units at the frontlines. The distribution process involves using both military and civilian vehicles for transportation to mini bases on the front line.

Why so far?

One might conclude that the selection of Konyushkov Bay as a base in the Far East, despite its perceived impracticality, could stem from a desire to obscure the transfer of ammunition from the DPRK. It’s noteworthy that this is high-risk cargo – should it ignite, it could devastate the port. 

Upon reflection, choosing a remote, if somewhat inconvenient port, does have its own logic. Furthermore, the abandoned subterranean infrastructure of the previous Soviet base could serve as a haven for ammunition storage. 

In the landscape of primary bases, it’s reasonable to suggest the 719th base, located a mere three kilometers from Tikhoretsk. Significantly, it sits alongside an airbase, officially identified as the 627th training aviation regiment, which has the requisite equipment to handle Il-76 military transport aircraft. It’s pertinent to mention that Tikhoretsk is approximately 290 km from the current frontline.

North Korea's KN-23 ballistic missile flew 460 km, hitting Kharkiv
Photo credit: Military-Today.com

In late October

In late October 2023, BulgarianMilitary.com disclosed evidence suggesting a significant shipment of artillery ammunition from North Korea to Russia. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker, once prominent on Twitter before it transitioned to social network X, presented an unforeseen disclosure via leaked photos. The photos prominently featured 122-mm and 152-mm projectiles, illuminating the potential scope and complexity of the collaboration between these countries. 

Intelligence collated by ERR.ee suggests that Ants Kiviselg, the chief of the Estonian Defense Forces’ intelligence division, confirms the arrival of 350,000 ammo units from North Korea to the Russian Federation. Given that Russia uses approximately 10,000 units per day, this cache could sustain operations for just over a month. 

Beyond this, the prospect of North Korea acting as a continuous supplier of artillery ammunition for Russia raises concerns. The magnitude of this agreement and how long it could last is cloaked in ambiguity. Upcoming deliveries could indicate the creation of a long-term agreement, an idea that is, indeed, troubling. 

Estonian intelligence offered additional evidence: the Russian Federation reportedly has a massive inventory of 4 million artillery rounds. This stockpile is more than sufficient to sustain a year’s worth of low-intensity conflict. Consequently, it’s essential to monitor how this revelation may affect the perceived balance of military assets in the region.

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