According to the latest Financial Times report citing the Ukrainian military, Ukrainian troops are firing Soviet-era BM-21 Grad rockets near the city of Bakhmut that seem to have come from North Korea (DPRK), signalling that Moscow has turned to another despot for help.

The Grad (“hailstorm”) is a self-propelled 122 mm multiple rocket launcher that was designed in the Soviet Union in the 1960s but continues to be widely used around the world with several countries known to be producing the ammunition for the systems. A single BM-21 launcher can rapidly fire up to 40 rockets from the array tubes mounted on its Ural truck chassis.

The US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby claimed in November that the DPRK was covertly shipping artillery shells to Russia in support of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He did not confirm the quantities or types of ammunition but said it was a “significant number.”


In March, Kirby went further and said Washington had evidence that Moscow was negotiating with Pyongyang to exchange weapons for food. He also alleged that Pyongyang sold rockets and missiles to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group during its bloody battles to capture Bakhmut. Prigozhin dismissed the accusation as “gossip and speculation.”

Both Moscow and Pyongyang denied the assertion, but the presence of this ammunition does seem to confirm much of the US assessment.

The commander of the Ukrainian soldiers said the rockets had been “seized” from a ship by a “friendly” country before being delivered to Ukraine. Ukraine’s defense ministry advisor and spokesperson Yuriy Sak wouldn’t give any further specific details other than to suggest the rockets were taken from Russian forces.

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“We capture their tanks; we capture their equipment, and it is very possible that this is also the result of the Ukrainian army successfully conducting a military operation,” he said. 

He continued: “Russia has been shopping around for different types of munitions from all kinds of tyrannies, including North Korea and Iran.”


The Ukrainian artillery commander said the munitions were totally unreliable with a high failure rate either misfiring or failing to launch. Markings on the rockets show that they were manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s.

Even with these reliability issues, the Ukrainians continue to use them, “We have no choice, we need every rocket we can get,” said the team leader. A Grad unit soldier warned visiting journalists not to get too close to the rocket launcher when it was fired as the munitions “are very unreliable and do crazy things sometimes.”

Russian forces attacking Ukraine relied heavily on their BM-21s for both offensive and counter-battery assaults. As reported by Kyiv Post Ukraine has concentrated much of its pre-counteroffensive preparations in interdicting the weapons and is believed to have destroyed as many as 250 launchers.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, has been visiting Pyongyang this week, ostensibly to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean war. This was the first visit by Moscow’s top defense representative since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. During the visit, Shoigu was hosted by the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and visited a military expo in the DPRK capital.

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