So you’ve probably heard about the latest arms scandal involving Ukraine, this time as a NYT scoop rather grandly titled ‘North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant, Investigators Say‘. History moves in strange cat ways: I’m old enough to dimly remember the Kolchuga scandal back in 2002 about Ukraine allegedly providing Iraq with anti-air systems, which turned up nothing, but the damage was done: the Late Kuchma Ukraine was briefly alienated from the West and forced to turn back to Russia. Yesterday, thanks to NYT, we stood on the same rain-slick precipice of darkness, and barely managed to turn away at the last second.
It is rare that we get a speedy reaction from our government, in this case NDSC, as seen here – Ukraine has never provided arms to DPRK, is not providing arms to DPRK, and will not provide arms to DPRK, period. This is an abridged version with 100% less mentions of Russia, although I wouldn’t argue Russia is to blame here. At the very least this is an effort to whitewash accusations leveled against Russia last week; at most those are more than mere accusations – those are facts. Seeing as the world – Ukraine included – has been reluctant to cease space cooperation with Russia – that would be damning indeed.
The tone of the discussion changed markedly from yesterday. For one, NYT’s message is far too biased against Ukraine, even mentioning Ukraine in the headline, than the report it’s based on. While the report attributes the possibility to smuggling, citing the ‘hard times’ Ukrainian missile industry’s fallen on, the article, on the other hand, shifts emphasis to the country, nay – the government, instead. While I understand the Western press’ reservations about our government (not that I agree with them, mind you), this is a serious accusation and to levy it at Ukraine based on a possibility is going a bit too far.
There’d been some U-turns as certain opposition politicians here in Ukraine retracted their previous statements, the author of the IISS report clarifying that he did not mean Ukrainian government condoned or was involved in the event – sadly, Mike Elleman’s Twitter account @Elleman_IISS is dead now, for some reason; and the Ukrainian-language Deutsche Welle came out with a pretty balanced story (Ukrainian). The disaster may have been averted for now. So why am I writing this in a half-dead blog?
Apparently some people still read this particular half-dead blog, but that’s besides the point. What I wanted to say was that blame should be allocated proportionally. And that the problem is bigger than Ukraine, Russia, North Korea or the US-DPRK trans-Pacific shouting match.
The problem is that space, the final frontier, is more or less incidental to nuclear weapons delivery systems even now. The first rockets to propel Gagarin and Glenn into the great black yonder were essentially retooled ICBMs. The Tsyklon rockets used to punt satellites into orbit nowadays still are. In their previous life they were the dreaded SS-18 Soviet ICBM – the one NATO nicknamed ‘Satan’. The same that were assembled here, in then-Soviet Ukraine, in the sleepy town of then-Dnipropetrovsk, at a then-top secret factory now called Yuzhmash. As Cold War ended, both Yuzhmash and its Russian colleague, Energomash, realized that nuclear swords can be beaten into non-nuclear plowshares, thus giving birth to Tsyklon rockets. What Yuzhmash failed to realize, however, was that plowshares can be beaten back into swords.
Yuzhmash is officially a state enterprise. State property in Ukraine is rarely praised for transparency; what most fail to realize, however, is that this lack of transparency doesn’t necessarily serve someone’s dictatorial whims. Most of the time it serves the much more worldly monetary whims of those in charge. The directors. The deputies. The top management. State industries have historically low wages – unrealistically so, seeing how much money Ukraine repeatedly sinks into them. Too little of that ends up in the rank-and-file workers’ pockets.
It would be prudent to say this state of affairs should end. Frankly, I think it should and I hope SBU’s shaking up Yuzhmash the way they do unlucky bitcoin miners. The truth is that Ukraine has no alternative. There are no new people to take up the torch of leadership in a state company – and even fewer of those who wouldn’t reap the benefits of unlimited state financing themselves. This is a country where civil activists drive luxury cars and own penthouse apartments; to expect less of upper management would be unrealistic. And there is no simple solution. Yuzhmash is a strategic enterprise: I’ll be the first one to argue that it shouldn’t be privatized – even if privatization in Ukraine wasn’t accompanied by so much political shitstorm. But what it should be is scrutinized – or at the very least kept on a very tight leash.
It is irrelevant whether Yuzhmash did it or did not. There should be an investigation and I’m positive there already is one. SBU has a reputation to come down like a ton of bricks on industrial espionage – after all, several North Korean nationals already got arrested back in 2012 for trying to acquire rocket know-how from Yuzhmash, and they are still serving time in a Ukrainian prison even now. The problem is that Yuzhmash may have inadvertently given those secrets away – by putting them in Russian hands. There are no legal obstructions to cooperating with Russia on spaceflight – neither in Ukraine or the West. Which is what most probably transpired in this case.
It’s bad enough that we entrust dangerous technology to what effectively is a hostile nation. It’s even worse that the whole world does. And it’s a nightmare that this technology, intended for peaceful use, can be handed over to an unstable third party – a feudal dictatorship only too eager to use nuclear weapons for its own political gain.
North Korea has an impressive track record of human rights violations and crimes against humanity – yet it cannot even manufacture its own liquid rocket fuel, importing it from, that’s right – Russia and China. This is a nationwide concentration camp, essentially an entire state relying on slave labor and brainwashing to eke out a miserable living. And this death camp now has an intercontinental ballistic missile. A missile that can’t even hit Continental US – but it’s still more than a death camp should have. And now the world teeters on the brink of a shouting contest that may see mutually assured destruction – what held the world from combusting in nuclear flame for the past half century – unraveled once and for all. This should not come to pass.
And Ukraine is the most interested that it doesn’t come to pass. Not only because we gave away our nuclear arsenal and got precisely nothing in return. But because if nukes go off at Guam and Pyongyang, we will be next.
We can’t bodily drag Trump or Kim away from their red buttons. But we can make sure this doesn’t happen again. We can make sure Yuzhmash is buried under a ton of very nosy and very angry bricks, and its senior management is fired in disgrace. And we can make sure there is no space cooperation with Russia anymore – lest it be used against as.
What you can do? Understand. Think. I’ve seen more capacity for thinking this time around than I see in most cases when Ukraine is concerned nowadays. This is an encouraging sign. However you may distrust our government, however many reservations you may harbor against us – just stop. Read what was written above. And only give blame where due.
You don’t want a nuclear war.
Ukraine doesn’t, too.