MOSCOW -- Russian missile specialists were being recruited to work in North Korea, according to reports Wednesday of a previously undisclosed incident last year that is sure to renew Western fears over brain drain.
The planned flight by the scientists to North Korea was thwarted after authorities learned about it.
A newspaper in Chelyabinsk, a Urals Mountain city east of Moscow where the Soviets established a nuclear research and development center, disclosed plans to have the scientists work in North Korea.
The Russian Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the scientists were courted by North Korea, prepared for the trip and were prevented from going at the last minute. But the ministry denied Chelyabinsk reports that Pyongyang diplomats were expelled over the incident.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union -- and the virtual collapse of the economy -- the West has sounded alarms over the possible flight of badly-paid nuclear scientists to the highest Third World bidder.
Russian officials have acknowledged concerns over the threat of this so-called brain drain, but they have repeatedly denied that any scientists have gone abroad to help develop other countries' nuclear or military capabilities.
The Chelyabinski Rabochi said a man identified as Anatoly Rubtsov posed as a representative of the Russian government to invite missile design specialists to work abroad at monthly wages of $1,500 to $4,500. The pay was well above what the scientists could make at home and came at a time when Moscow was cutting back its military spending. Rubtsov's phony position was designed to give his invitation legitimacy, the paper said.
The newspaper quoted Valery Tretyakov, head of the Chelyabinsk division of the Russian Security Ministry, as saying that North Korea sought 'to use Russian scientific potential to modernize its missile forces in a short period of time.'
The Chelyabinsk report said the recruitment under false pretenses began last February with a group of 60 scientists. A group of 32 was reportedly traveled to Moscow and were ready to go.
Valery Yermolov of the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Security Ministry indeed prevented the departure of the scientists from Moscow last October.
Yermalov denied information from Chelyabinsk that North Korea diplomats from the Pyongyang embassy in Moscow, who allegedly instigated the recruitment, were expelled. But Yermolov told the independent Interfax news agency that Moscow warned that if such activities continued it could affect relations between the two countries.