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Russia Turning to N. Korea, Iran for More Weapons Ahead of Spring Offensive, NATO Head Warns

BELFAST — In a bid to build up weapons supplies for new offensives in Ukraine, Russia is counting on the support of North Korea and Iran, according to NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.

He warned today that Moscow is “reaching out” to the authoritarian regimes for more arms, adding that China “may be providing lethal support,” during the SAMAK Nordic Summit, held in Helsinki, Finland.

The annual event brings together social democratic political parties from across the Nordic region, with the war in Ukraine and Finland and Sweden’s NATO application dominating proceedings.

Iran has consistently supplied Russia with Shahed-136 loitering munitions for strike missions but a recent UK intelligence update indicated that there have not been any reports of “one way attack” UAV’s being used in Ukraine since February 15.

The finding strongly suggests that stocks of the weapon are in urgent need of replacement, fitting with Stoltenberg’s message that Russia is actively seeking new supplies from Iran. The high incidence of Ukrainian air defense interceptions and shootdowns of Iranian loitering munitions has led to Western officials claiming that the weapons have lost their edge.

As to ties with North korea, eclassified US intelligence revealed in September 2022 that arms supplies from North Korea to Russia included millions of artillery shells and rockets, according to a New York Times report.

Stoltenberg declined to share any details about the latest push by Russia to engage with Pyongyang or China potentially offering arms to Moscow, but said of the latter that it is an issue the alliance has become “increasingly concerned” about. While Chinese drones like the Wing Loog II are widely considered inferior to US uncrewed aircraft due to reliability issues and less technologically advanced sensors, they could still provide a boost for Russia, which seem sot be scrambling for any source of military materiel it can find.

China continues to publicly assert an unaligned position with respect to the war in Ukraine and has also called on peace talks to be held, claiming that it seeks to play a “constructive role” on the matter. While there is no evidence that Chinese made weapons have been used in the war, European and US officials are convinced efforts are being made for such a plan to be implemented imminently.

China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning recently accused the US of “spreading disinformation” about supplying weapons to Russia and using it as a pretext to introduce a new round of sanctions against Chinese companies.

Those sanctions were delivered by the US Department of Commerce on Feb. 24, justifying them on the basis that China was one of a number of countries found to be “engaging in sanction evasion and backfill activities in support of Russia’s defense sector.” All “targeted companies” are forbidden from buying items like semiconductors.

The bitter dispute over whether China is preparing to arm Russia comes amid Western countries committing to new military aid packages to Ukraine, mainly involving additional supplies of Leopard 2 main battle tanks.

Finland finally followed the lead of Germany and a host of other European partners by announcing last week that it will send three of the vehicles to Kyiv for mine clearance operations. Prime minister of Finland Saana Marin also said at the SAMAK Nordic Summit that the faster the tanks are handed over to Ukraine, “the sooner the war will end.”

She added that Finland had taken “many decisions” on armed support for Ukraine. “We are willing to continue this for as long as it takes,” Marin said.

Finland and Sweden continue to await entry to NATO, which has been held up by Hungary delaying ratification and Turkey’s resistance to Sweden’s bid on account of Kurdish group protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a dispute over the extradition of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and perceived support for Syrian Kurdish YPG militants.

Sweden and Finland have already agreed to a series of concessions to satisfy Turkish demands, including Stockholm lifting an arms blockade and the two Nordic nations consenting to address “pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects” requested by Turkey, as set out by the Madrid Summit in 2022.

NATO will host a bilateral meeting in Brussels “next week” between Finland, Sweden and Turkey in an attempt to solve outstanding issues, according to Stoltenberg.

“The Hungarian parliament has made it clear that they will start the [ratification] discussions within a few days,” he added.

Stoltenberg refused to confirm an exact date of when the two Scandinavian countries will join the alliance, saying only that “we are working to make it happen as soon as possible.”

Elsewhere, on defense spending, he revealed that “almost all allies” have a plan to reach NATO’s 2% GDP spending target.

Source : Defense