North Korea’s advances in missile technology was made possible by black-market transactions with Ukraine, the New York Times has reported. According to "classified American intelligence agencies", it seems Ukraine supported North Korea's ballistic missile program.
Sadly, the US State Department under the Obama administration supported a coup against then pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 in order to boost NATO’s expansion. But the NYT remains baffled at the transfer of weapons technology, or at least pretended to be: “How the Russian-designed engines, called the RD-250, got to North Korea is still a mystery.”
North Korea purchased powerful rocket engines from a Ukrainian factory on the black market, the NYT reported, citing “expert analysis being published Monday and classified assessments by American intelligence agencies” after Norbert Brügge, a German analyst, reported that photos of the engine firing revealed strong similarities between it and the RD-250, a Yuzhmash model.
North Korea’s improved missiles, according to a new study by Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, are quite remarkable. “The engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents,” Elleman said.
Investigators and experts have now focused their attention on a missile factory in Dnipro, Ukraine. After the 2014 coup which ousted Yanukovych, the state-owned factory, known as Yuzhmash, fell on hard times because the Russians canceled upgrades of their nuclear fleet.
The new NATO “ally” Ukraine denied reports of technology sales abroad, in particular to China. Its website says the company does not, has not and will not participate in “the transfer of potentially dangerous technologies outside Ukraine”.
“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine — probably illicitly,” Elleman told the NYT in an interview. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”
Elleman told the NYT that despite the United Nations sanctions against North Korea, the purchase suggests a broad intelligence failure involving the US. Elleman also makes a strong circumstantial case that would implicate the engineers. “I feel for those guys,” said Elleman, who visited the factory repeatedly a decade ago and seem to know the engineers well. “They don’t want to do bad things,” he added. Elleman did not elaborate on his “feelings” for Russians.
Six years ago the UN discovered that North Korea had wanted “to steal missile secrets from the Ukrainian complex”. Two North Koreans were caught, and according to a UN report, they tried to steal advanced “missile systems, liquid-propellant engines, spacecraft and missile fuel supply systems”. Investigators now believe that, after the chaos of the coup in Ukraine, Pyongyang had a much friendlier reception.
It seems as if Ukraine had been working with North Korea at least since the administration of Barack Obama, suggesting the North Korean crisis is rather a consequence of Obama’s foreign policies.
The North turned to the Yuzhmash plant in Ukraine, as well as its design bureau, Yuzhnoye. The team’s engines were potentially easier to copy because they were designed not for the limited space in submarines but roomier land-based missiles, which simplified the engineering.
After the Crimean referendum, Moscow withdrew plans to manufacture new versions of the SS-18 missile at Yuzhmash. In July 2014, a report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace warned that such economic upset could put Ukrainian missile and atomic experts “out of work and could expose their crucial know-how to rogue regimes and proliferators”.
Elleman noted: “We could be in for surprises.” The first of the North’s two tests in July of a new missile, the Hwasong-14, went a distance sufficient to threaten Alaska, surprising the intelligence community. The second went far enough to reach the West Coast, and perhaps Denver or Chicago.
In 2013, US government “experts and independent analysts” declared that the North’s missiles were incapable of flight and are almost certainly nothing more than fakes, NBC reported.
“My opinion is that it’s a big hoax,” Markus Schiller, an aerospace engineer in Munich and former RAND Corp. military analyst, said of the intercontinental and medium-range missiles displayed in the North Korean capital in April 2012.
Many who spoke on condition of anonymity then, would not discuss the methods used to make their determination.
But already in 2012, Brügge, who also studied the parade imagery, warned that the North may have the technology. “There are real missiles, not mock-ups!” he said in an email to NBC News.
The State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) said at a media conference on Tuesday they will not take legal action against The New York Times newspaper for its article. SSAU acting chairman Yuriy Radchenko told reporters that the United States was Kiev’s “strategic partner in space programs”.
“So we are not interested in deteriorating relations with official state bodies,” Radchenko said. He denied that the image of Ukraine would be damaged by The New York Times’ publication.
“I believe that [the image] will not be damaged as the image is based on the developments that the country has in international projects. Experts will give the right assessment,” Radchenko added.
Ihor Savula, the acting chairman of the State Service of Export Control of Ukraine (SSECU), said no official documents were issued allowing the supply of technologies or goods to North Korea.
A US intelligence official told TASS on Tuesday commenting on media reports of Ukrainian-made rocket engines on the black market: “We have intelligence to suggest that North Korea is not reliant on imports of engines. Instead, we judge they have the ability to produce the engines themselves.”
“Copying” of Ukraine’s rocket engines by North Korea would be impossible without Ukrainian experts, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin noted.
“What does ‘copies of engines’ mean? These are not pictures or sculptures. In order to make a ‘copy,’ one needs to have the engine’s original model or its detailed drawings, as well as the help of Ukrainian experts who can and are ready to develop production on an unfamiliar technological platform. One way or another, it is about smuggling by skirting all the existing extremely strict international bans,” the Russian deputy prime minister said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.