Recent satellite imagery has raised alarms over an abrupt surge in railway traffic across the border shared by North Korea and Russia. The transportation influx, carrying undisclosed cargo, has left observers puzzled and concerned about its potential implications.
The U.S.-based Korean unification think tank, Beyond Parallel, conducted a thorough analysis of satellite images depicting railcars and transportation facilities connecting the two nations. Their findings revealed a level of traffic “far greater” than any recorded over the past five years.
According to Beyond Parallel’s report published on Friday, “In the aftermath of the Kim-Putin summit, satellite images as of October 5, 2023, captured a dramatic and unprecedented level of freight railcar traffic at North Korea’s Tumangang Rail Facility located on the North Korea-Russia border.”
While the precise contents of these shipments remain shrouded in secrecy, there are concerns that they could be related to supporting Russia in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine. A statement from a U.S. government official suggesting that North Korea has initiated artillery transfers to Russia has intensified these suspicions.
The Tumangang Rail Facility in North Korea has witnessed a steady increase in the number of freight cars present, with approximately 73 railcars documented. This starkly contrasts with the maximum of 20 railcars documented at any given time over the past five years.
Beyond Parallel posits that the significant uptick in rail traffic likely signifies North Korea’s provision of arms and munitions to Russia, given that Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin discussed military exchanges and cooperation during their recent summit.
However, the concealment of cargo contents remains a major challenge, as the shipments are deliberately obscured using tarps and freight coverings.
During this month’s meeting between Putin and Kim Jong Un, discussions revolved around a potential arms deal, though no formal agreement was reached by the end of the six-day summit. Reportedly, North Korea would receive advanced weapons technology and food supplies from Russia in exchange for ammunition and artillery.
Experts suggest that North Korea’s involvement in assisting Russia with munitions is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the ongoing Ukraine conflict. Seth Jones, director of the International Security Program and Transnational Threats Project, noted that North Korea is a desperate country, making it a last resort for assistance.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, now entering its 20th month, has led to extensive munitions consumption and the destruction of significant heavy artillery on both sides. This dire situation has pushed leaders like Putin and Zelenskyy to seek additional support to outlast their adversaries.