On Monday, the New York Times published an article suggesting that North Korea has made black market purchases of powerful rocket engines allegedly found in a known Russian-owned missile factory in Ukraine. This suspicion comes after recent classified assessments by American intelligence agencies.
After multiple failures caused by American sabotage and cyber attacks, North Korea has changed designs and suppliers of their missile program over the course of two years. A recent study conducted by Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says this is to blame for the recent successes of the North Korean regime.
Analysts who have studied Kim Jong-Un have concluded that the new rocket motors stem from designs that once powered the Soviet Union’s missile supply, saying “the engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents.”
Because the engines are linked to only a few former Soviet Union sites, government investigators and experts have set their sights a missile factory located in Dnipro, Ukrain. The factory played a crucial role for the Soviets during the Cold War, creating the country’s deadliest missiles.
After the 2014 ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the state-owned factory, known has Yuzhmash, fell on difficult times. With the factory being underused, drowning in debt, and having low worker morale, experts believe this is the most likely source of the engines that powered the North’s July launch.
“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine — probably illicitly,” Mr. Elleman said in an interview. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”
To support his conclusion, he added, was a discovery by the United Nations investigators that six years ago, two North Koreas were caught trying to steal secrets from the Yuzhmash complex in an effort to find information on advanced “missile systems, liquid-propellant engines, spacecraft and missile fuel supply systems.”
When asked about the intelligence assessments, the White House declined to comment.
Yuzhmash has denied these alligations, explaining on its website the company does not, has not and will not participate in “the transfer of potentially dangerous technologies outside Ukraine.”
Although there is no evidence to prove the government of President Petro O. Poroshenko, who recently visited the White House, had any knowledge or control over what was happening inside the complex, American investigators do not believe the statement released by the factory.
“This information is not based on any grounds, provocative by its content, and most likely provoked by Russian secret services to cover their own crimes,” Mr. Turchynov said. He said the Ukrainian government views North Korea as “totalitarian, dangerous and unpredictable, and supports all sanctions against this country.”
The mystery of how the missiles got into Kim Jung-Un’s hands still remains.
American officials have noted that North Korea has used the black market to advance their missile technology for decades.
In June, Mr. Elleman said North Korea’s venture into new missile engines was important because it undermined the West’s assumptions about the North’s missile capabilities. He said, “We could be in for surprises.”
Unfortunately, his prediction was spot on.
Just one month later, North Korea tested two missiles. The first traveled a distance long enough to threaten Alaska, catching officials off guard. The next went far enough to hit the west coast of the U.S.
With the implication that Ukraine has been working with North Korea for years, even stretching back to the early days of the Obama administration, the United States should seriously reconsider its support for the Ukrainian government until we know for sure whether or not the North’s missile engines are coming from Yuzhmash.