Russian support likely enabled North Korean spy satellite launch – South Korea

The Malligyong-1 military spy satellite went into orbit on Tuesday (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
The Malligyong-1 military spy satellite went into orbit on Tuesday (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP) The Malligyong-1 military spy satellite went into orbit on Tuesday (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

South Korean officials have concluded that Russian support likely enabled North Korea to put a spy satellite into orbit for the first time this week, and say they will know whether it is functioning properly by early next week.

The launch has deepened regional animosities, with both Koreas threatening to breach a past reconciliation deal and taking hostile actions along their heavily armed border.

After two launch failures earlier this year, North Korea said it successfully placed its Malligyong-1 satellite into orbit on Tuesday night.

South Korea’s military has confirmed that the satellite entered orbit, but said it needs several more days to verify whether it is working properly.

Koreas Tensions
Koreas Tensions South Korea assessed that it was likely Russian support that enabled North Korea to put a spy satellite into orbit for the first time this week (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In a closed-door briefing, South Korea’s spy agency told politicians on Thursday that Russian assistance was likely the main reason the launch was successful.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s earlier mention of a promise to support North Korea’s satellite programme.

It said it also obtained intelligence that North Korea had sent Russia the design and other data for its new Chollima-1 rocket, used in the two previous failed launches.

The intelligence showed that Russia returned its analysis of the North Korean data, according to legislator Yoo Sang-bum, who attended the NIS briefing.

South Korean defence minister Shin Wonsik told a separate parliamentary committee meeting that Russia appears to have been providing technological assistance for North Korea’s satellite programme.

The same satellite and rocket were used in all three launches.

The two earlier attempts in May and August failed due to technical problems with the rocket.

There has been speculation that Russia is providing technological support for North Korea’s satellite and other programmes since leader Kim Jong Un travelled to Russia to meet Mr Putin and visit key technology and military sites in September.

The Kim-Putin summit was held at Russia’s main space launch centre.

Asked whether Russia would help North Korea build and launch satellites, Mr Putin told Russian state media at the time that “that’s why we have come here”.

He added: “The (North Korean) leader shows keen interest in rocket technology. They’re trying to develop space, too.”

Putin and Kim
Putin and Kim Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un held a summit in September (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

The US, South Korea and Japan accuse North Korea of obtaining high-tech Russian military technologies in return for supplying conventional arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both Russia and North Korea have denied the alleged deal.

North Korea said its Malligyong-1 satellite will begin its official mission on December 1. But it said the satellite has already transmitted images of military facilities in the US territory of Guam and that Mr Kim saw them. North Korea has not released the images.

Many foreign experts are sceptical about the satellite’s ability to take high-resolution images and whether it is militarily meaningful.

After recovering debris from the first failed launch attempt, South Korea’s military said the satellite was not sophisticated enough to perform military reconnaissance.

Defence minister Shin said he worries that Russia could help North Korea produce higher-resolution satellite photos.

Mr Shin said South Korean, US and Japanese authorities will be able to determine whether the satellite is functioning normally as early as this weekend or early next week.

Kim and Putin
Kim and Putin The launch has inflamed regional tensions (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

South Korea, the US and Japan strongly condemned the satellite launch, saying North Korea is using it to improve its missile technology as well as acquire a space-based surveillance system.

UN Security Council resolutions ban any satellite launches by North Korea, viewing them as disguised tests of long-range missile technology. North Korea says it has a sovereign right to launch spy satellites to cope with what it calls US-led military threats.

It says spy satellites would allow it to better monitor its rivals’ moves and enhance the precision-strike capability of its nuclear-capable missiles.

In response to the satellite launch, South Korea said it has partially suspended a 2018 agreement to reduce tensions with North Korea and will resume flying surveillance aircraft and drones along their border.

North Korea’s defence ministry slammed the South Korean decision on Thursday, saying it will deploy more powerful weapons at the border in a tit-for-tat measure.

It said it will not be bound by the 2018 deal any longer and will reverse all the steps it has taken to ease front-line military tensions under it.