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Air Koryo Flight Brings North Korean Defense Researchers, Students to Russia

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Air Koryo Flight Brings North Korean Defense Researchers, Students to Russia

North Korea sent researchers from its Missile General Bureau to receive advanced rocket engine technology from Russia, a source told Daily NK.

Air Koryo Flight Brings North Korean Defense Researchers, Students to Russia
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Felix Goetting

A flight from Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, recently brought new workers, defense researchers, and students to Russia, highlighting the expanding exchanges between North Korea and Russia as the two nations grow closer.

According to several Daily NK sources in North Korea, an Air Koryo flight that left Pyongyang for Vladivostok on March 18 carried various passengers, including defense researchers and technicians, overseas workers, students, university professors, and tourists.

Less than 100 of the passengers were heading to Russia as laborers. There are currently thousands of new workers waiting in North Korea to head abroad after undergoing selection and training.

One of the sources told Daily NK that Pyongyang has deprioritized sending laborers to Russia as the scope of cooperation and exchanges with Moscow grows.

Although North Korea earns considerable foreign currency by sending laborers abroad, even Pyongyang is beginning to feel that it does not need to rush to send such workers abroad – in violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions – as the country’s means of earning foreign currency are diversifying.

“Because they plan to continue sending workers, the North Korean authorities believe they don’t need to send many laborers at once,” the source added.

In its September 2023 report, the Panel of Experts on U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea said up to 100,000 North Korean workers were working in some 40 countries in restaurants, textiles, construction, medicine, and IT, earning about $500 million a year for the regime.

The newly-departed workers will work at construction sites across Russia, including in Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Magadan, and Ussuriysk. But not everyone abroad the flight was a laborer.

According to one of the sources, several of the North Koreans who left for Russia on March 18 were defense science researchers and technicians involved in the development of strategic weapons such as nuclear weapons and missiles, some of whom work in the engine research laboratory under the Missile General Bureau.

The source said the Missile General Bureau researchers were sent to Russia to receive advanced rocket engine technology from that country.

In addition, some graduate students from Kim Jong Un National Defense University went to Russia for short-term research, and professors and students from other universities also left for the country. This suggests that academic exchanges between North Korea and Russia will accelerate as the two nations grow closer.

Meanwhile, an Air Koryo flight that returned from Russia to Pyongyang on March 18 brought home North Korean laborers. Fewer than 50 workers returned, and all of them had been unable to work in Russia due to health and other problems.

One of the sources said the plane also carried food, electronic goods, medical supplies, and other items in its cargo hold.

“Because it costs a lot to put a flight in the air, planes come and go full of either people or goods,” the source said. “The flight carried food such as flour, snacks, and pasta. It also carried a lot of items such as printers, ink, and computers.”

According to Vladivostok International Airport’s website, two Air Koryo flights between Pyongyang and Vladivostok made round trips 30 minutes apart on March 18.

This article first appeared in Daily NK, which contacts multiple sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The Diplomat was not able to verify the claims independently.