Yuzhmash, a state-owned factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, is at the center of a U.S. investigation into how North Korea procured Ukraine-made rocket engines. File Photo by Mykhailo Markiv/EPA
Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Ukraine's state space agency said the rocket engine used to launch North Korea's most recent intercontinental ballistic missile is the same as the type of engine used by Ukraine-made space vehicles.
But Ukraine denied supplying the engines to North Korea, raising the possibility Russia might have played a middleman role in delivering the powerful engines to Pyongyang, Radio Free Asia reported.
The statement from the Ukrainian government agency came Tuesday, a day after The New York Times reported American investigators found evidence North Korea purchased the engines on the black market, and that they were "probably from a Ukrainian factory with historical ties to Russia's missile program."
According to Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, North Korea switched suppliers in recent years, and turned the fate of its missile program around with Ukrainian technology.
"It's likely that these engines came from Ukraine -- probably illicitly," Elleman told The Times. "The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I'm very worried."
Yuzhmash, a state-owned factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, is at the center of a U.S. investigation.
The plant historically provided supplies to Russia's missile program, but fell into disarray after 2014, and Russia stopped placing orders, according to The Times.
While acknowledging the rocket engine used to launch North Korea's most recent intercontinental ballistic missile is the same as the type of engine used by Ukraine-made space vehicles, Ukrainian space agency director Yurii Radchenko said the RD-250 engine technology transferred to North Korea was once used to power Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 space rockets supplied to Russia.
The Ukrainian official also said a total of 223 Cyclone-2 and Cyclone-3 rockets were supplied to Russia, suggesting there is a high probability Moscow could have been involved in connecting North Korea to the engines stored in Russian warehouses.