North Korea Promises to Send Troops and Workers to Support Russia in Ukraine

South Korea Defense Ministry via AP

North Korea has promised to send Korean People's Army engineers to support Russian forces in Occupied Donetsk. The North Korean military is the fourth largest in the world and the world's largest if one includes active, reserve, and paramilitary forces. This promise follows Russian President Vladimir Putin's highly publicized trip to North Korea last week. 



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In response to that Pyongyang announced early this week that it will be sending troops in the form of a military engineering unit to support Russian forces on the ground in the Donetsk region. The troops are expected to arrive on the battlefield as soon as next month.

The DPRK has already supplied almost two million rounds of artillery ammunition, rockets for Russian multiple launch rocket systems and, it is alleged, ballistic missiles to support Putin’s forces since the two leaders met in Russia in September. The active participation of North Korean combat troops raises the specter of escalation to the conflict, especially as commentators think it will not go well for Pyongyang’s sappers on the battlefield.

The issue was brought up in Tuesday's Pentagon briefing.


Q: A quick follow-up – North Korea's Central Military Commission announced that North Korea would join forces with the Russian military. And as part of the North Korea and Russia military alliance, the North Korean Army engineer unit would be dispatched to Donetsk, Ukraine, which remains occupied by Russia. It will be dispatched as early as next month. How do you assess about the rapid situation in which North Korea and Russia are moving toward Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: So, just to clarify, you're asking what do I think about Russia assigning North Korean forces to the battlefield in Ukraine?

Q: North Korean Army.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sending North — yeah, I mean, that's certainly something to keep an eye on. I think that if I were North Korean military personnel management, I would be questioning my choices on sending my forces to be cannon fodder in an illegal war against Ukraine. And we've seen the kinds of casualties that Russian forces – so – but again, something that we'll keep an eye on.

Q: …is it part of …

GEN. RYDER: Let me — let me move on, Janne. Yes, sir?


North Korea promised in 2022 to send what amounts to slave laborers to reconstruct the wreckage of Ukrainian cities devastated by the Russian military. I posted on that development at the time.

BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 39. The Battle of the Generators – RedState

Those workers are apparently on the ground now.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in North Korea told Daily NK that about 150 new North Korean workers were sent to Donbas last January.

A first group of workers flew from Pyongyang to Vladivostok on Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, and then traveled to Donbas via Moscow. The rest of the workers traveled from Vladivostok to Volgograd and then on to Donbas.

The workers were divided into three workplaces under North Korea’s External Construction Guidance Bureau and the Ministry of Social Security, the source said.

The North Korean workers are currently helping to rebuild various structures in Donbas, including houses, schools, and shopping centers. Russians are also involved in the reconstruction work, but they generally handle more technical projects, such as bridges and communication facilities, while the North Korean workers are in charge of repairing buildings.

So what, if anything, does this mean?

North Korea seems to see Puitin as a useful counterweight to China and as a way of sort raising its diplomatic profile. I imagine the Korean troops will be engaged in de-mining efforts and not involved in direct combat. Inevitably, they are going to suffer casualties. It is kind of difficult to imagine a scenario where they don't become targets. Kim isn't going to send combat units to Ukraine because that works against his narrative of guarding against an imminent attack by the South Koreans. However, one could see him sending some paramilitary forces for rear area security. 


This is much more an exercise in image building by Kim than a precursor to World War III, because whatever it is, it ain't that.


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