North Korea’s claimed success in spy satellite launch raises possibility of Russian assistance

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North Korea’s claimed success in placing its first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit on its third attempt has raised the possibility it could have received technological assistance from Russia, a media report said on Wednesday. North Korea said a new type of Chollima-1 space rocket successfully put the Malligyong-1 satellite into orbit on Tuesday night, just months after two botched attempts in May and August, respectively, Yonhap News Agency reported. The latest launch came amid growing speculation that Russia might have provided the North with military technology in return for the North’s supply of military equipment and munitions for use in Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

South Korea earlier retrieved wreckage from the first attempt, which the North claimed to have experienced an “abnormal” startup of the second-stage engine, and concluded it had no military use as a reconnaissance satellite. Pyongyang blamed booster malfunctions at the third-stage level on its second attempt. But in just three months, North Korea came back declaring the successful launch of its first spy satellite and vowed to launch several more “in a short span of time” to secure its reconnaissance capabilities against South Korea. South Korean military officials and intelligence said that Russia is likely to have provided technical support to the North.

In September, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un travelled to Russia and held a rare summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. When asked whether Russia would help the North build the satellites, Putin told reporters that was the reason “why we came here”. Defence Minister Shin Won-sik said during Sunday’s media interview that North Korea is believed to have overcome its engine problems in its satellite with Russia’s assistance. Earlier this week, a military official told reporters an 80-tonne liquid fuel engine was transferred from Russia to the North even before the September summit, and said evidence suggests that Russian engineers entered the North after the summit. Pending a detailed analysis of the launch, South Korea and the US did not confirm whether it was a success. Observers say a successful launch could significantly enhance the North’s monitoring of the South.

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