Reports from both the self proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics in eastern Ukraine, and from a number of Russian sources, have indicated that North Korea is set to dispatch up to 100,000 personnel to support the three parties’ ongoing war effort against the Ukrainian government and its NATO supporters. This follows reports that North Korea would support reconstruction efforts in eastern Ukraine, and Pyongyang’s decision to afford diplomatic recognition to the two republics, which were recognised by Moscow in February. North Korea has a long history of supporting war efforts across the world against Western interests, most notably its contributions to war efforts by Vietnam and Syria including dispatch of technicians, doctors, artillery advisors, and special forces to bolster the Syrian government in the 2010s. Russian sources have highlighted that Korean experience in “counter battery warfare” could be particularly prized, with North Korea fielding considerably more capable artillery systems than Russia itself which previously fuelled speculation that Russia may seek to purchase them to counter NATO artillery deliveries to Ukraine.
Participation in the Ukrainian War would allow North Korean personnel to gain experience against forces armed and trained by NATO and often directed by NATO officers, while further bolstering ties with Russia which Moscow will likely provide significant compensation for. North Korea and the United States have been at war for over 70 years, and with U.S. and other Western officers playing key roles in supporting the Ukrainian war effort from running logistics to providing intelligence and planning several key operations, having North Koreans fight on the other side would mark on the latest of several conflicts where the two fight on opposing sides. Alongside considerable numbers of volunteers who have joined the war from Western countries, official American personnel involvement has reportedly expanded as the quantities of U.S. equipment have grown faster than the Ukrainian Military can absorb it. North Korea and Russian forces previously fought on the same side in Syria in support of government forces, and joint operations in Ukraine could do much to bolster defence ties and provide key experience in combined operations to Korean units. What hardware North Korean forces could deploy with them, considering the general compatibility of North Korean and Russian arms, remains uncertain should deployments indeed materialise.