This week, Ukraine was in the spotlight of international politics again. The New York Times published an article implicating Ukraine in supplying missile engines to North Korea. Authors present a chain of logic based on the claim that the DPRK would not have been capable of developing such systems in a short time, so they must have bought missiles on a “secondary” or black market. Missiles themselves may have been produced in Ukraine or Russia. This is the actual sequence in which journalists mention the countries; it is the word “Ukraine” which is present in the title of the article leaving no opportunity for evasion.
The NYT article refers to a report prepared by Michael Elleman, a missile expert, published on the same day. Authors seem to have been working together with Elleman or to have been in possession of the draft report before its first publication.
The report would have not receive the profile, were it published on an anonymous blog or yet another think tank web site. Such reports and articles are only as valuable, as the media where they are published or reprinted. So the stamp of approval by NYT, which is widely considered a reliable source, gave this report an altogether different status.
On a separate note, the NYT has never been fond of Ukraine and often published strange articles about the country. However, they were usually published in the Opinion section of the newspaper, which is, in fact, just a blog on the newspaper’s website. This time the article was sponsored by the editorial board.
Who is Mr Elleman?
Ukrainian media rushed to present the American missile expert Elleman as the Kremlin’s stooge, thus finding a simple way to explain the tone of the NYT article. In the 1990s, Elleman worked on a disarmament program in Russia. The logic goes that, if one has worked in Russia, he must have been recruited by the secret services.
However, the program in question is the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (also known as the Nunn-Lugar program), an interstate initiative implemented by the USA and ex-USSR countries since 1991. The U.S. Government paid for the decommissioning of nuclear, chemical, and other weapon stockpiles, delivery vehicles, and general disarmament. In 2012, the U.S. Government allocated $8.97 billion for the program. Ukraine took part in the program as well.
Elleman studied Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, worked for a number of disarmament programs and was employed by Lockheed Martin. From 1995 to 2001, he was in charge of the disarmament program in Russia; in 2003 to 2009, he worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a company which took part in the implementation of disarmament programs. The former officers of the U.S. intelligence agencies often work for this company. It is worth reminding that Edward Snowden spent his almost entire active intelligence career working for this company (from 2009 to 2013).
In fact, Elleman is a niche expert, and if he worked in Russia, he did so as per orders of the U.S. Government; after that, he worked for a company affiliated with the U.S. intelligence agencies and was considered an expert in missile technologies. People like him can hardly be called “former officers.”
To some extent, his career path is similar to that of Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, who also studied Physics and worked on disarmament together with American partners. However, nobody calls him a U.S. stooge.
Is Elleman Accusing Ukraine?
Reading the NYT article leaves no doubt that Ukraine was somehow implicated in supplying missile engines to North Korea. The article is full of standard boilerplates without any evidence — the poor economic situation in Ukraine together with the wealth of expertise in missile technology, the experience in cooperating with Russia, some unknown missile engine smugglers, and you know what Ukraine is like anyway. Ukraine has been mentioned 26 times in the article, while Russia only deserved 13 mentions. Authors got their priorities straight.
However, the idea of Elleman’s report is that the engines may have been produced in Russia or Ukraine. They may have been produced in Ukraine in the Soviet era. Russia and Ukraine is the actual word sequence used in the report where it is mentioned 5 to 7 times. In Elleman’s report, Ukraine is mentioned 12 times, and Russia is mentioned 20 times. So, it was the NYT journalists who shifted the emphasis of Elleman’s report and presented Ukraine as the main culprit instead of Russia.
Russia’s Response or the Complete Lack Thereof
Now, it would be of great interest to monitor Russia’s response. If we assume that the article is a product of Russian special services or influencers we should expect an outcry from Russian experts and diplomats, but Maria Zakharova keeps silent for some reason.
Curiously, the article was published on Monday morning, and Arsenal show is airing of Echo of Moscow radio every Monday evening. The show’s guest this time was Boris Obnosov, Director General of Russia’s Tactical Missiles Corporation. The topic of the program—Russia’s missile engineering—was ideal. If the NYT piece was a part of Russia’s media campaign, this show would have been a brilliant opportunity to expose the mean plot of Ukraine in selling missile technology to pariah states. However, there was no mention of Ukraine for the whole hour.
It bears noting that in spite of all attempts to implicate Ukraine in supplying missile technologies to North Korea, Ukraine is physically unable to deliver them to Kim Jong-un’s regime. The delivery, if any, should have been routed via Russia or China. Russia hardly needs any additional sanctions for Ukrainian engines shipped to North Korea.
The bottom line is that there is no black market for missile engines in the world, as there is no second-hand market for Siemens turbines. And there are no ways to “source them alternatively”. One way or another, there is a Russian connection in this story. Most likely, the missile engine was delivered to North Korea by the Russians, even if it was produced a long time ago in Ukraine or the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Even if the technologies or the missile itself was handed over to the DPRK by China, the Chinese got them either from Russia directly or with Russia’s knowledge.
This is the reason for Russia’s information machinery’s taking time to choose an official stance: Should we join in accusing Ukraine or should we pretend that nothing has happened, just in case. They seem to have gone for the second option.
What Was Written about the Korean Missiles Earlier?
Issues of the supply of missile technologies have been raised in the Western press a number of times. However, Ukraine has either been mentioned in a cursory manner or not mentioned at all in earlier articles.
For instance, the roundtable Trump and North Korea: Where Do We Go From Here? hosted by Johns Hopkins University discussed missile technology supplies to North Korea with Elleman’s participation on June 1, 2017. However, it was again all about Soviet missile technologies that had been produced in Russia or Ukraine. The Russia/Ukraine mention score was 22 to 10 in favor of Russia.
Interestingly, German newspaper Die Welt mentioned Ukraine and Iran as potential sources of North Korean missile technologies in their article “Wie zum Teufel kommt Kim an eine solche Rakete?” (Where the Hell Kim Got Such a Missile From?) on July 4, but the Ukrainian media seemed to have overlooked that bogus story.
American newspapers have discussed this issue frequently. Just two days before the NYT, The Salt Lake Tribune published an article under the title “North Korea still mastering how to deliver a nuke to U.S.” on August 12, where it cites Michael Elleman as the expert, but without mentioning Ukraine at all. Coincidence?
Ukraine as Ideal Victim
Nevertheless, it was after Elleman’s analytical reports implicating Russia and Ukraine in the North Korean missile development that the NYT article tilted the balance to implicating Ukraine and Russia or, rather, Ukraine alone.
This is an ideal choice of the victim. A country at war with lots of problems anyway, with a shady past of supplying weapons to all trouble zones of the world; it has technologies of producing almost all WMDs; it is run by some murky leaders who can be accused of almost anything without any evidence… because everything is clear anyway.
There will be no need for charred Made in Ukraine labels dated after the start of the Russia’s aggression as proof. It is enough to feed “it could have been Ukraine” to the media. There will be no real need for any supporting evidence, given Ukraine’s reputation.
And, Ukraine regarded as a weak third-world nation, would be ill-placed to respond adequately to the fake information. In the USA, nobody will listen to denials by Yuzhmash, Ukraine’s aerospace manufacturer, or Ukraine’s security officials. NYT will not welcome Ukrainian journalists on its pages to respond to accusations. So, the headline “North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant” will become history…
The Silence of the Chinese Lambs
The silence of the PRC, the primary sponsor of the North Korean regime, bears a separate mention. The China/North Korea border is 1420 km long; the Russia/North Korea border is a bit longer than 39 km. So what is the reason to believe that the missile technologies were supplied to North Korea from Russia or Ukraine, and not from China?
Actually, the Trump administration is distracted by a useless conflict with a pariah state which is unable to reach the U.S. territory with its missiles; according to the latest information, it only threatens to destroy the U.S. Naval Base in Guam.
The Trump administration could have started addressing economic issues the President raised in his campaign, such as reducing America’s dependence on foreign goods. Trump’s rhetoric about reducing the availability of German and other European goods on the U.S. market gave rise to the anti-Trump frenzy among European politicians and media. Today, Germany has a trade surplus with the United States of more than €50 billion, Eurozone’s total trade surplus is close to €100 billion.
The U.S. trade deficit with China reaches almost $350 billion. If the Trump administration starts new economic policy along the America First lines, China’s export oriented economy will be the first to suffer.
So, it is good for China, that the USA would have to deal with North Korea with its missile technologies of unknown provenance capable of reaching the USA territory, instead of addressing the economy issues. If push comes to shove, the pacification of North Korea could become a self-made bargaining chip in the hands of the Chinese diplomats.
It is ironic that China tightened its economic sanction against North Korea on the day of the publication of the article about supplies of the Ukrainian missile engines. Was it a mere coincidence or a result of another bargaining round between China and the USA?
Kolchuga vs Javelin
However, the situation probably does not require such an elaborate explanation. Some time ago Ukraine was accused of supplying Kolchuga air defense systems to Iraq. When Americans entered Iraq, they found not a trace of the Ukrainian Kolchugas. However, the Ukrainian President Kuchma had been given an exemplary international flogging. Today, after many years, the situation has cleared up leaving behind some bitter aftertaste.
Into the fourth year of the Russian military aggression, the USA came close to considering lethal weapons supply to Ukraine. However, it is for a good reason that it is taking that much time to discuss this issue. The deliveries are opposed by both Kremlin’s lobbyists (there was an interesting article on Bloomberg) and domestic political forces which cannot see any direct benefit for the USA from the rapid victory of Ukraine. Why would the USA need a Ukrainian victory in the Donbas if the conflict with Russia’s involvement can be kept on the back burner for years?
We know from history, that with the relevant political will forthcoming, Taliban or bearded Syrian opposition fighters could get the modern weaponry. But the issue of lethal weapons supplies to Ukraine has been very long in the rut.
We will be watching for signs of America’s response to this NYT piece. It could be forgotten as a lame interpretation of Elleman’s report. But, it could also become an argument in the U.S. domestic political debates against supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine.
Translated by Oleksandr Ivanov, edited by Artem Velichko
(Creative Commons — Attribution 4.0 International — CC BY 4.0)
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