North Korea Sends Troops to Ukraine: Why Matters?

North Korea soldiers
Soldiers of North Korea (Credits: TSGT James Mossman, U.S. Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 43 Issue 9
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi

The recent defence pact established between Russia and North Korea represents a notable escalation in Eurasian geopolitical dynamics, carrying the potential for wide-ranging consequences.

Following the signing of this agreement, according to Seoul’s sources, there is the eventuality that Pyongyang will deploy military engineering units to support Russian forces in the Ukrainian conflict.

This move has intensified global concerns and elicited powerful reactions from the United States and its allies.

Russia-North Korea Defence Pact

The defence agreement between Russia and North Korea stipulates mutual military assistance in the event of aggression against either nation. The pact serves as a formalisation of the covert support North Korea has been providing to Russia, including the provision of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and other munitions.

South Korean intelligence indicates that North Korea shipped approximately 2,000 containers of military supplies to Russia last year, including SRBMs, anti-tank guided missiles, and artillery shells. Russia has already used the latest addition to its arsenal from North Korea, the Hwasong-11 SRBM, in Ukraine, demonstrating high precision and evasion capabilities against air defence systems.

North Korea Troops’ Deployment to Ukraine

North Korea’s decision to send military engineering units to the Donetsk region further cements its role in the conflict. According to the South Korean TV Chosun, citing the words of a Seoul’s official, these units will arrive next month, with the goal of aiding Russian military campaigns.

This deployment will not only bolster Russia’s operational capacity in Donetsk but also signify Pyongyang’s deeper involvement in the Ukrainian war.

Regional Reactions

United States. Washington has categorically condemned North Korea’s military support for Russia, viewing it as a provocative escalation. Washington’s threats of harsh retaliation against North Korean troops in Ukraine highlight the heightened risk of direct confrontation.

The U.S. continues to bolster its military presence in the region, exemplified by the deployment of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt to participate in joint drills with South Korea and Japan.

South Korea and Japan. Both Seoul and Tokyo express increasing alarm over the deepening military cooperation between Russia and North Korea. Seoul has detected consistent signs of arms transfers from Pyongyang to Moscow since mid-2023, with a notable surge preceding Kim Jong Un’s visit to Russia. South Korean intelligence actively monitors these developments, wary of the implications for regional security and stability.

China. Beijing’s position remains cautious yet concerned. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell noted Beijing’s anxiety over the potential destabilising effects of the Russia-North Korea alliance. China is deeply concerned about the potential for North Korea to engage in further provocative actions, which could escalate tensions in Northeast Asia.

Military, Economic, and Humanitarian Implications

Integrating North Korean engineering units into Russian operations could enhance logistical and infrastructural support in occupied Ukrainian territories. The potential outcome of this collaboration could cause enhanced operational effectiveness in Russia’s military endeavours, thereby influencing the strategic equilibrium in conflict areas like Donetsk.

North Korea’s involvement also raises economic and humanitarian concerns. The transfer of North Korean workers, often disguised as construction workers, to Ukraine suggests a strategy to generate hard currency for Pyongyang. If proven true, this practice would violate international sanctions and exacerbate the already severe humanitarian crisis in North Korea.

Why Matters?

The possible deployment of North Korean troops in Ukraine in support of Russia holds significant implications for international security and geopolitical stability. This development marks an escalation in the conflict, illustrating the expanding military collaboration between two nations already viewed as international pariahs.

The presence of North Korean military engineering units in the Donetsk region will likely bolster Russian operational capacity, thereby enhancing its logistical and infrastructural support in the occupied territories. Such an augmentation can shift the strategic balance in the conflict zones, potentially leading to prolonged hostilities and greater challenges for Ukrainian defence forces and their Western allies. The increased precision and capabilities of North Korean-provided munitions, as demonstrated by the use of the Hwasong-11 SRBM, highlight a new level of military sophistication that could further complicate the conflict dynamics.

Furthermore, the deployment underscores the broader geopolitical ramifications, with heightened concerns from the United States and its allies. Washington’s condemnation and threats of retaliation signal a risk of direct confrontation, adding another layer of complexity to the already volatile situation.

If you require further reports, risk assessment, or consulting services about North Korea-Russia relations and the Ukraine conflict, please do not hesitate to contact us at

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