How Russia Is Helping North Korea Build the Bombs That Could Start World War III

Some of the advanced missile technology recently put on display by North Korea was acquired with help from Russia, according to new documents acquired by The Washington Post. Getty Images

Some of the more advanced missile technology recently put on display for the wider world by North Korea was acquired by the rogue state with the help of Russia, according to new documents acquired by The Washington Post from one of the top Soviet-era missile manufacturers.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. investors reportedly attempted to work with Russian scientists, who were largely unemployed and desperate for money, to acquire advanced Soviet military technology. But the investors ran into a number of legal hurdles, which reportedly provided an opportunity for North Korea to swoop in. Pyongyang apparently was willing to pay some of the scientists who'd previously worked for Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau more than 200 times what they made at home to provide it with Soviet missile designs.

Some of the Russian scientists were prevented from going to North Korea to provide it with Soviet military technology. But U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials have confirmed that Makeyev scientists ultimately did obtain employment as consultants to North Korea, The Washington Post reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a Hwasong-10 missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea on June 13, 2016. Getty Images

The greatest evidence of a Russian–North Korean collaboration is the similarity between features in missiles recently tested by Pyongyang. In June 2016, for example, North Korea tested the Hwasong-10, or Musudan, an intermediate-range ballistic missile, which apparently had distinct similarities to the R-27 Zyb, or Ripple, manufactured by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau––including the same engine. In August 2016, North Korea tested a submarine-launched missile called Pukguksong-1 that also had similar features to the Ripple. Joshua Pollack, an analyst at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told The Washington Post that both of those North Korean missiles are "generally regarded as derived from the designs of the Makeyev Bureau's R-27."

North Korea made major leaps in its missile technology in 2017. The reclusive nation tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile yet in late November; it reached an altitude of 2,800 miles (over 10 times higher than the International Space Station) and traveled for 50 minutes before crashing into the Sea of Japan. The more advanced missile technology Pyongyang has put on display over the course of the year could be a sign it has greater access to Soviet-era designs and blueprints than previously thought, according to The Washington Post report.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs an order document of a test-fire of the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile, on November 28. Getty Images

North Korea's missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States have led to major tensions across the world over the course of the year. As the United Nations sought to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions via harsh economic sanctions, President Donald Trump issued boisterous threats at Kim Jong Un's regime, leading some to fear that war was on the horizon. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and plays golf with the president, recently said there's a 30 percent chance Trump would take military action against North Korea. A strike would almost undoubtedly lead to a response from China and Russia, both of which share a border with North Korea.

North Korea is believed to possess as many as 60 nuclear weapons. If war broke out, it could potentially use them on South Korea or Japan, and millions could die. A November report from the Congressional Research Service concluded that a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea would lead to roughly 300,000 deaths in the first few days alone, even without the use of nuclear weapons.