“It wasn’t Ukraine sending their engines to North Korea – it was the work of North Korean scientific and technical intelligence in Ukraine that made it all happen. Apparently, the liquid-fuel rocket engines had been acquired there illegally even prior to 2014,” the expert concluded. Be my guest, or transfer of military technology
At the same time, relations between Kiev and Pyongyang have never been friendly and heartfelt enough to suggest Ukraine’s willingness to provide North Korea with powerful nuclear weapons. However, there is documentary evidence of Ukraine’s corruption-based cooperation with other countries in the nuclear missile field at the turn of the 21st century, which may invite precisely this kind of thinking.
In 1994, Kiev finally discarded the last of its remaining nuclear arsenal, of around 1,000 missiles it had retained after the collapse of the USSR. The plan was to pass half of them on to Russia and to destroy the rest – as part of the US-funded disarmament program.
But in 2005, ex-president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko confirmed that the previous administration had sold X-55 cruise missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Iran and China
“through several figureheads,” as he put it. The range of these missiles is 2.5 thousand kilometers, so this scam practically meant an increased threat of nuclear attack for Israel and Japan.
However, it seems that North Korea had other ways of getting what it wanted.
Starting from the 1990s, representatives of North Korea were caught red-handed trying to get hold of Soviet nuclear missile technology on many occasions. Kashin believes Pyongyang has been conducting scientific and technical intelligence in Ukraine for quite a while now.
“According to declassified KGB documents, North Korean scientific and technical intelligence efforts in Ukraine date back to Soviet times. There was a criminal case, for example, involving their agent, a worker of the Arsenal Factory in Kiev, who was caught stealing parts of anti-tank missiles. North Koreans had ample opportunity to get hold of Soviet military technology in the 1990s and early 2000s in Dnepropetrovsk where they were snooping around all the time. And the Ukrainian government was not involved in any of this. There is nothing to confirm that they were selling their technology deliberately, of course. They just took advantage of the gaps in Ukraine’s flawed counter-intelligence system,” Kashin said.
Mikhail Khodarenok, a military analyst and retired colonel, reminded RT about the chaos and anarchy that reigned in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine, affecting many areas of life in the 1990s.
“Back then, Ukraine saw much of its critically important technology leak out of the country. We can trace Ukrainian influence in both China’s and Iran’s strategic cruise missile arsenals. And it’s not surprising – everyone did their best to survive in those turbulent times. And many things may indeed have been done without the involvement of [the] Ukrainian leadership.” “But I don’t believe North Koreans were able to steal much. I am inclined to think that, in many cases, it was all based on deals, on mutual agreement. It’s just that the government was not part of it,” Khodarenok concluded. © KCNA / Korea News Service via AP
And 20 years after the Soviet Union collapse, espionage attempts by North Korea continued.
On 12 December 2012, the DPRK became the 10th nation to join the global space club by placing its Kwangmyongsong-3 (or KMS-3) satellite in Earth orbit. It was the same year when a high-profile spy case involving North Korean nationals was investigated in Ukraine.
It resulted in two citizens of North Korea (employees of a trade mission in Belarus) being sentenced to eight years in prison. They were caught trying to buy technical documentation and scientific works containing important R&D results from the staff of the Yuzhnoye Design Office in Ukraine. And they offered to pay a modest fee of $1,000 for every research paper on liquid-fuel engine systems. An unnamed source later informed the Strana.ua web portal that the Koreans had taken a particular interest in the design of the legendary R-36M (or Satan) intercontinental ballistic missile engine. It’s the most powerful missile of its kind.
Hunger and bombs
Another issue that has likely played into the hands of North Korean technology hunters is the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon, with dozens of Soviet engineers fleeing abroad after the Belovezh Accords were signed in 1991, disbanding the USSR.
The post-Soviet de-industrialization of Ukraine took stable income and career prospects away from dozens of professionals working at the Ukrainian aerospace manufacturer Yuzhmash. So these people were forced to look for other ways to make a living.
Choices were limited. They could either try their luck in the wild post-Soviet labor market (attempting to start a business or becoming a salesperson) or agree to a tempting –albeit questionable in terms of patriotism and legality– offer to help other countries with their nuclear missile programs.
Many of them found themselves in difficult circumstances –personally and professionally– after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s even believed that some of them went to North Korea, Iran and Pakistan.
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual later admitted that the importance of this phenomenon, when top-level specialists lost their jobs, was overlooked. It wasn’t just a matter of their personal turmoil – this was an important factor for the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The US and EU, however, took some initiatives in the mid-1990s. They funded the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine, an intergovernmental organization that was supposed to make sure that expertise and experience in the area of weapons of mass destruction didn’t leak.
Executive Director Curtis Bjelajac admitted that there was a point where the center basically gave out money to certain specialists. In the end, millions of dollars were spent on former Soviet engineers and scientists specializing in missile and nuclear technology. The general consensus is that this helped stop the flow of professionals into countries that are toying with dangerous technology. But were there any ‘leaks’?
According to Mikhail Khodarenok, there is an understanding within the community of experts that it was the work of Yuzhmash specialists that helped North Korea develop its missiles.
“You can’t really judge Yuzhmash engineers – everyone tried to survive back then, and those countries paid good money. I think that many went there for work. North Korea would not have made such advances without the expertise in the critical technology. The Soviet Union also had to borrow – it used Wernher von Braun’s research after the war,” Khodarenok said. (Von Braun was a German aerospace engineer and Nazi Party member who later worked in the US — RT). Creative nuclear weapons
Compared to Western Europe and the US, South Korea has been very reserved in its help to Kiev during this year’s crisis, providing mostly moral support and supplying non-lethal military aid. Some are surprised by this reaction. Why doesn’t Seoul do more? Maybe South Korea is concerned with the possibility that the equipment received by Ukraine might someday magically reappear north of the 38th parallel?
Khodarenok thinks that this is unlikely but he finds the theory interesting. He says that the real reason South Korea is not going all in is that
“every Russian family owns several things manufactured in South Korea, and the country doesn’t want to lose that market”. However, Seoul may change its stance under pressure from Washington, the expert warns.
Kashin sees the connection between South Korea’s reserved reaction and the North’s nuclear problem, but he finds it elsewhere.
“South Korea knows that if it helps Ukraine, Russia will stop complying with the sanctions against North Korea. Seoul understands that it shouldn’t burn all bridges with Russia, whose military operation in Ukraine was supported by North Korea (one of very few countries). And since Russia’s relations with all developed [sic] countries went south, Moscow might decide to get creative with its North Korea partnership. And nobody wants that – especially not South Korea. Israel, by the way, is guided by the same considerations – it has refused to supply Ukraine with any lethal equipment, because Russia might respond by providing Iran with some unpleasant weapons,” he commented. By Maxim Hvatkov, a Russian journalist focusing on international security, China’s politics and soft-power tools.
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