The Ukrainian government has denied supplying advanced missile engines to North Korea after a report said Pyongyang’s latest ICBMs use motors produced in a factory in former Soviet state.
Kiev said the suggestion that advanced rocket engine might have been sold to North Korea by corrupt staff or managers at the Yuzhmash missile factor in the city of Dnipro was ill-informed and probably Russian propaganda.
"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," said Oleksandr Turchynov, the chairman of Ukraine's Security and Defence Council said.
“Ukraine has always adhered to all its international commitments, therefore, Ukrainian defense and aerospace complex did not supply weapons and military technology to North Korea,” the council said in a statement.
Michael Elleman, a missile engineer and analyst for the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said in a report published on Monday that two new long-range missiles unveiled by Kim Jon-un's regime this year appeared to be powered by a specially modified version of the RD-250, an engine previously used in Soviet ICBMs.
The RD-250 was designed and built by Yuzhmash, in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, and Energomash, a Russian rocket building company, for use in Cold War era nuclear missiles. Russia bought the engine from Yuzhmash for use in Tsiklon-2 satellite carrying rockets at least until 2007.
Mr Elleman told the Telegraph that he stands by his analysis that North Korean engineers could not have produced an advanced engine of the kind seen in the tests in May and July.
“The only people who can modify it easily are people at Yuzhmash or Energomash,” he said. “I talked to people that have visited Yuzhmash recently and they confirmed there is a single chamber version” like those seen in the North Korean test launches, Mr Elleman said. He declined to name the person who saw the modified engine.
Map: Guam in relation to North Korea
"I am not saying it definitely came form Yuzhmash. What we do know is that there is a single chamber version of the engine because it has been seen. And for all I know the redesign has been done by Russians," he said.
"What I do know is that the Koreans didn’t do it. So we don’t know where it came from, but we know it was modified and it was smuggled," he added.
North Korea tested two new long range missiles, the Hwangsong 12 and the Hwangson 14, in May and July this year.
The success of the long-range missiles, which experts believe could reach the US pacific island of Guam and even the US West Coast, shocked the international community and sparked a diplomatic crisis between Pyongyang and Washington.
Mr Elleman told the Telegraph that the he did not believe the Ukrainian government knew about any illicit sale and that the engines could conceivably have come from stocks in either Russia or Ukraine that were fenced through front companies and smuggling rings.
Most experts believe North Korean rocket engineers have historically concentrated on reverse-engineering and adapting Soviet-era designs like the Scud missile to build their own models. Such models have had a haphazard success rate and only limited range.
However, Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said he was sceptical about Mr Elleman's analysis.
"To be honest I would be a bit more careful about statements saying the North Koreans cannot do anything themselves. It is an underestimation of their capabilities," he said.
"If Soviet scientists could build these types of engines in the 1950s after the Germans showed them how, why couldn't North Koreans educated in the Soviet Union do so 60 years later?"
North Korea has attempted to procure missile technology via front companies in the past. In 2012 two North Korean nationals were arrested in Ukraine after attempting to procure equipment from Yuzhmash.
Yuzhmash said in a statement that is “does not and never has had any connection with the North Korean missile program” and has never exported the RD-250 or any military engines overseas.
“As a state owned company Yuzhmash strictly observes the Missile technology Control Regime which Ukraine has been a member of since 1998 (effectively since 1995),” the company said.
Energomash had not responded to emailed questions on Monday afternoon.