Reading Ukraine is 'test site' for N. Korean missiles -S. Korea

The United States and its allies on Wednesday condemned what they described as Russia's firing of North Korean missiles at Ukraine, with Washington calling it abhorrent

I am asking specifically about the alleged usage of North Korean missiles; I can't figure out why the source of weapons that Russia is using matters.

Ukraine has been using all sorts of weapons supplied by different countries around the world. I am just not sure why it is different if Russia uses weapons from other countries.

  • 1
    Matters to who? Obviously it doesn't matter much to the Russians, but it matters to others.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 12 at 15:44
  • @StuartF Matters to the international community. From the answers it does matters when it comes from a country that has sanctions by the international communtiy, which is fair enough and I understand the condemnation.
    – Mocas
    Jan 12 at 16:11

5 Answers 5


The transfer of North Korean weapons to Russia:

  • Is in violation of multiple UN resolutions.
  • Increases the suffering of Ukrainian civilians, who are affected by the Russian attacks using these weapons.
  • Serves as part of the exchange of military equipment and technology between Russia and North Korea, which is also in violation of UN resolutions and Western sanctions against North Korea.

Additionally, it:

  • Goes contrary to the Western sanctions against Russia.
  • Allows North Korea to test its weapons in combat, thus helping it develop its military capabilities.


The following is a statement from the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Federated States of Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the High Representative of the European Union, and the Secretary of State of the United States of America.

Begin Text

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) export and Russia’s procurement of DPRK ballistic missiles, as well as Russia’s use of these missiles against Ukraine on December 30, 2023, and January 2, 2024. The transfer of these weapons increases the suffering of the Ukrainian people, supports Russia’s war of aggression, and undermines the global non-proliferation regime. Russia’s use of DPRK ballistic missiles in Ukraine also provides valuable technical and military insights to the DPRK. We are deeply concerned about the security implications that this cooperation has in Europe, on the Korean Peninsula, across the Indo-Pacific region, and around the world.

Our governments stand together in resolute opposition to arms transfers between the DPRK and Russia. The transfer of ballistic missiles, along with any other arms and related materiel, from the DPRK to Russia flagrantly violates multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) – namely, resolution 1718 (2006), resolution 1874 (2009), and resolution 2270 (2016) – that Russia itself supported. We are closely monitoring what Russia provides to the DPRK in return for these weapons exports. We call on the DPRK and Russia to abide by relevant UNSCRs and to immediately cease all activities that violate them.

We urge all UN Member States, including all members of the United Nations Security Council, to join us in condemning Russia and the DPRK’s flagrant UNSCR violations. As Russia launches waves of missiles and drones against the Ukrainian people, we will continue to stand together in support of Ukraine. We further call on the DPRK to respond to the numerous and genuine offers to return to diplomacy, the only path to an enduring peace on the Korean Peninsula.

[The boldface is mine - TS.]

Joint Statement on DPRK-Russia Ballistic Missile Transfers - United States Department of State

  • 5
    Since the West is already concerned about Russian invasion in Ukraine, and about N.K. having any rockets, does that concern grow quantitatively or qualitatively? Your answer seems to imply the former, i.e. that no new issue is raised but the existing issues became slightly worse. It's also weird that any countries are expected to self-enforce Western sanctions on themselves.
    – alamar
    Jan 11 at 16:38
  • 11
    Goes contrary to the Western sanctions against Russia.!!! These are Western sanctions and North Korea is not part of the West. Even North Korea itself is under sanctions, and I don't see what's wrong with selling arms from one sanctioned country to another.
    – C.F.G
    Jan 11 at 17:14
  • 4
    @C.F.G The issue is the sanctions on both countries. Just because another country doesn't support those sanctions doesn't mean that the ones who do won't object to acts that violate them.
    – Joe W
    Jan 11 at 17:23
  • 3
    Increases the suffering of Ukrainian civilians => this is true, but I doubt the civilians care about the country of origin of said rockets... Jan 12 at 3:25
  • 9
    Civilians tend to care if they're getting attacked by more missiles or more lethal missiles. Russia wouldn't be importing North Korean missiles if they didn't think it provided them with some additional advantage or capability, which never turns out great for civilians on the other end of the missiles. Jan 12 at 6:51

There are two major issues (for countries that don't have an amicable relationship with North Korea) with Russia buying and using North Korean missiles:

  1. It provides revenue (or goods if done as a barter-trade) to North Korea. This works against the idea of sanctions which is meant to deny North Korea access to funds and goods that it can use to improve its economy or military.

    Kirby called North Korea's arms transfer to Russia a "significant and concerning escalation" and said the United States would impose additional sanctions against those facilitating the arms deals.

  2. It provides data on missile performance in actual battle conditions that North Korea can use to improve its missile technology. The North Korean missiles are also allegedly nuclear capable, and thus North Korea being able to improve it may fall foul of international nuclear proliferation laws.

    South Korea's ambassador said Russia's use of North Korean missiles gave Pyongyang "valuable technical and military insights" about its arms. "By exporting missiles to Russia, the DPRK uses Ukraine as the test site of its nuclear-capable missiles," said South Korean envoy Hwang Joon-kook.

    "Some experts assess that the missiles fired into Ukraine are KN-23s, which the DPRK claims can deliver nuclear warheads," he added, saying one flew 460 km, the distance from a North Korean launch site to South Korean's city of Pusan.

For countries that are already against Russia, and aiding Ukraine, these North Korean missiles add to Russia's military capability with respect to its ongoing aggression against Ukraine - this is obviously a matter of concern to Ukraine and its allies.


  1. White House says Russia used missiles from North Korea to strike Ukraine
  2. Ukraine is 'test site' for N. Korean missiles - S. Korea
  • 6
    An important detail buried here is that these are (supposedly) nuclear-capable missiles, not simply conventional weapons. Things escalate once "nuclear" enters the mix. For example, testing their missiles could be seen as assisting a non-nuclear weapons state (DPRK) in the development of nuclear weapons, which violates the nuclear non-proliferation treaty that Russia is party to.
    – bta
    Jan 11 at 23:53
  • @bta Good point. I've updated the post to include that too.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 12 at 0:31

There is a political angle to this, and a legal one, and of course they are connected.

  • Legally, North Korea is under various UNSC sanctions against their arms industry in general and their missile industry in particular, including an export ban. And by definition, any Security Council decision is one that the Russians supported (or at least not-vetoed) in the past.
  • Politically, Russia is much larger than Ukraine. It is no surprise that Ukraine should need foreign arms to defend itself against Russia, while it can be considered embarassing for Russia that it needs foreign arms; Russia considers itself a superpower, after all.
  • Finally, both North Korea and Iran are relatively isolated in the international community, by associating with them, Russia signals that it can find few other sellers.

Based on the other informative answers to this question, it seems that this condemnation is just a part of wider "condemnation duel" between Russia and the U.S. (and allies), where they condemn each other's transfer of arms to the parties in conflict.

Another example is that Russia, in exchange, is condemning the use of Czech MRLS which were used by Ukraine to hit the skating rink in Belgorod among other things:

"Весьма показательно поведение Чехии, которая, пытаясь сбежать от ответственности за соучастие в теракте в Белгороде через поставку боеприпасов, побоялась появиться на заседании СБ 30 декабря. Немудрено, ведь отвечать на глазах мировой общественности за гибель мирных жителей куда сложнее, чем прятаться за спинами "старших товарищей" по НАТО", — заметил российский посол.

"The behavior of the Czech Republic, which, trying to escape responsibility for complicity in the terrorist attack in Belgorod through the supply of ammunition, was afraid to appear at the Security Council meeting on December 30, is very indicative. No wonder, because it is much more difficult to answer for the deaths of civilians in the eyes of the world community than hiding behind the backs of "senior comrades" in NATO," the Russian ambassador noted.

So both sides would condemn each other and raise the issues in the UN which would then be either ignored or blocked by UNSC and then ignored, or more rarely, acually passed and then ignored. The example of the latter are sanctions against the NK itself, which were approved by UNSC including Russia but are now ignored by Russia itself.

In addition there are reminders about existing Western sanctions on Russia and NK, which show the work of legislative bodies but, since sanctions are obviously imposed by one country on another in non-transactional fashion, are non-binding for the suffering party: If your adversary tries to club you on a head but fails to score a hit, you are not obliged to fall unconscious. It seems to still be condemnable though.

Update: A nice example with regards to condemnation duels - Hamas condemns US-UK airstrikes in Yemen

  • 7
    It's slightly more than that. This seems more of a new domestic propaganda for Biden to try to pressure the Republicans into supporting Ukraine military aid by perpetuating the view that NK and Iran - enemies of the US - are now openly supporting Russia. And the US needs to do something about it but Republicans aren't helping here.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 11 at 17:58
  • 5
    Gosh, Ukraine hit a town? You don't say. Russia would never do that. No, there would only be an equivalent if Czech had been under UN weapon trade sanctions. It isn't. Jan 11 at 22:57
  • 1
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I'm actually not sure that any UN sanctions disallow transfer of NK arms to other countries. In fact, I'm pretty sure everybody will jump with joy if NK would decide to give all of its rockets to, let's say, US. I'm pretty sure the US would even compensate them if they promise not to make any new ones. Also, eww.
    – alamar
    Jan 11 at 23:04
  • 9
    Read unscr.com/en/resolutions/doc/1718 (b) The DPRK shall cease the export of all items covered in subparagraphs (a) (i) and (a) (ii) above and that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from the DPRK by their nationals, And what are those, you ask? : (i) Any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined Jan 12 at 0:05

These rockets are used to destroy the civilian energy grid of Ukraine. On the basis that military uses some electricity too. Many parts of Kyiv have been left without electricity or water, which is particularly dangerous as temperatures are forecast to drop to -20 degrees Celsius.

It is questionable how much the energy grid of Ukraine is a "valid military target", and those who complain may think it is not. In a statement on 2024, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Denise Brown one more time strongly condemned the assaults targeting mostly cities. The compliance of these attacks with the laws of ware has already been discussed in the previous year. "Collective west" at least placed restrictions on how they weapons are allowed to be used.


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