Russia Got 7,500-Pound Rockets From North Korea—And Promptly Blew Up A Pair Of Ukrainian

In World


Russia is lobbing North Korean-made ballistic missiles at Ukraine from positions just north of the Russia-Ukraine border.

The missile attacks, apparently involving KN-23 solid-fuel rockets, may have caused significant damage. At least one open-source analyst believes Russia’s new North Korean missiles struck a pair of Ukrainian army logistics bases in recent days, destroying as many as 10 valuable tanker trucks.

Russia’s acquisition of KN-23s—7,500-pound, solid-fuel rockets with 1,100-pound warheads—represents a major escalation of Russia’s 23-month wider war on Ukraine. And Ukraine might not be able to strike back with similar weapons.

International sanctions bar North Korea from exporting its homegrown rockets. But the regimes of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un clearly are confident they can flaunt sanctions and widen the war without risking a serious response from Ukraine and its allies.

U.S. national-security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Pyongyang provided Moscow’s forces with rockets and launchers. The inertially-guided KN-23 usually launches from a wheeled transport-erector-launcher. It ranges 400 miles or so and should strike within 35 yards of its aimpoint.

It’s not some super-weapon. The KN-23 broadly is similar to Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile. Ukraine’s best American-made air-defenses—Patriot PAC-2s—routinely shoot down Iskanders.

But Ukraine has just three Patriot batteries, presumably one each in Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv. That leaves other cities defenseless against ballistic missiles. It’s not for no reason that, according to Kirby, Russia aimed its initial KN-23 attacks at Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine—a city without Patriot cover.

In supplying KN-23s, North Korea grows Russia’s missile arsenal and helps it to sustain the record-large barrages it has been launching since last month. Moscow’s aim obviously is to launch more missiles than Ukraine, with its limited supply of air-defense batteries and missile-reloads, can intercept.

Ukraine could target the KN-23 launchers, but with what? Its locally-made Tochka-U ballistic missiles range just 75 miles or so. And Kyiv has assured its allies it won’t strike inside Russia proper with the air-launched cruise missiles it’s gotten from the United Kingdom and France, or with the ground-launched rockets it’s gotten from the United States.

Ukraine makes its own long-range attack drones, and also has modified its old S-200 surface-to-air missiles into 300-mile-range surface-strike weapons. It’s unclear whether either could strike quickly and accurately enough to take out a KN-23 system on the ground.

Besides, we don’t know for sure the Ukrainians even can detect a KN-23 before it launches—or quickly enough after it launches—in order to get a clear shot at the launcher.

Ukraine could respond assymetrically, by striking harder at Russian rear-areas inside Ukraine—say, in occupied Crimea. But again, with what? Ukraine produces, on its own, only a handful of deep-strike munitions per month. It relies on its allies for the balance of its munitions needs. And its allies are unreliable.

Worst is the United States, which last year gave Ukraine 20 or so 100-mile Army Tactical Missile System rockets—but since then has declined to replenish Ukraine’s ATACMS arsenal.

The White House’s reluctance to give Ukraine large numbers of the most powerful weapons is one problem. The far greater problem is that pro-Russia Republicans in the U.S. Congress for months have refused to vote on the White House’s proposal to spend $61 billion arming Ukraine in 2024.

Until the Republicans decide to support Ukraine over Russia, Russia can continue lobbing four-ton North Korean rockets at an increasingly defenseless Ukraine. And Ukraine will have vanishingly few ways of firing back.

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