Speed Reads

a little help from his friends

North Korea may have built its ICBM with black-market parts linked to Russia

North Korea has been testing weapons technology in pursuit of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland for years. Many of the tests were less than successful; in March and April, for example, missile tests ended in utter failure with explosions mere seconds after launch.

But now, suddenly, Pyongyang has the tech it has wanted for so long. This "mystery of how North Korea began succeeding so suddenly after a string of fiery missile failures" may be explained in a New York Times report, which cites "an expert analysis being published Monday and classified assessments by American intelligence agencies" to reveal that North Korea's abrupt success was "made possible by black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines probably from a Ukrainian factory with historical ties to Russia's missile program."

The analysis is based on photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting new missiles. The images appear to depict rocket engines whose design is based on a motor used in the former Soviet Union's weapons. Some of the Soviet engines were produced in Ukraine at a factory that remains active and desperately low on licit customers to this day. "It's likely that these engines came from Ukraine," the author of the analysis, Michael Elleman, told the Times. "The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now."

The Ukrainian government categorically denied involvement, labeling Pyongyang "totalitarian, dangerous, and unpredictable." It remains unclear how the motors could have been secretly transported to North Korea, though Elleman did not rule out involvement from a Russian missile producer, Energomash, with links to the factory in Ukraine.