Two North Korean spies, a Ukrainian jail and a murky missile tale

Seeking to explain North Korea’s mysterious recent success in missile technology, some experts have pointed a finger at Ukraine, particularly the Yuzhmash rocket factory and its Yuzhnoye design bureau in Dnipro.

ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine —

The North Korean spy, posing as a member of his country’s trade delegation in Belarus, thought he was photographing a secret scientific report on missile technology as he snapped away with a small camera in a dingy garage in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the home of Ukraine’s Soviet-era rocket industry.

But the report he took pictures of was a fake, part of a sting mounted by Ukraine’s security service to prevent the leak of missile secrets, and now the spy, Ri Tae Gil, 56, is in prison convicted of espionage. He sleeps on the bottom bunk in a cell shared with eight Ukrainian inmates, four of them murderers.

His July 2011 arrest in eastern Ukraine along with a fellow North Korean spy, which was first reported this month by CNN, shows the extent to which the North has scoured the world for foreign technology to reinvigorate what had been a faltering program to develop long-range missiles.

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Ri and his partner, Ryu Song Chol, 46, were arrested a few days before North Korea’s then leader, Kim Jong Il, announced during a visit to Russia that the North was considering a moratorium on missile production and nuclear-weapons testing. The moratorium never happened.

Instead, after Kim’s death in December 2011 and the ascent to power of his son Kim Jong Un, North Korea ramped up its nuclear and missile programs. In July this year, North Korea for the first time launched missiles that experts said were capable of hitting the United States.

While speaking good Russian, which is widely spoken in Ukraine, Ri does not talk much, his cellmates said, but he does watch a lot of television, particularly reports on the accelerating progress of a…

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