11/15/2022, 15.12
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South Korea and weapons to Ukraine

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Although South Korea is one of the world's largest armaments manufacturers, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said that his country is only providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, not war materiel. Media reports suggest, however, that South Korean artillery pieces are reaching Ukraine via the United States. This comes at a time of renewed tensions with North Korea.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Since the start of the war in Ukraine, South Korea has supplied the eastern European country with bulletproof vests, helmets, medical supplies, and many other items.

Nevertheless, the South Korean government, which condemned Russia’s invasion of the country, has pledged not to send weapons into the war zone.

"We've provided humanitarian and peaceful assistance to Ukraine in solidarity with the international community but never lethal weapons or any such things,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told the press last month.

Yet, despite the no-weapons policy, something is changing, the Wall Street Journal reported recently, citing anonymous sources familiar with the facts.

Earlier this month, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin reportedly reached an agreement in principle on the sale of 100,000 155mm artillery pieces to the United States, after Washington reported in August that its stockpiles were running low due to shipments to Ukraine.

The agreement, according to anonymous sources, would allow the United States to supply the Ukrainian armed forces without having to draw on its own arsenal. It is estimated that 100,000 rounds of ammunition, enough for several weeks of intense combat.

The South Korean Ministry of Defence has not denied that sale is being negotiated, but reiterated that the final recipient of the ammunition  would be the United States, not Ukraine.

It is entirely possible that this is South Korea’s way to maintain its formal policy of not sending weapons. Seoul fears that open support for Kyiv might lead Moscow to provide greater support to Pyongyang.

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested this in October when he likened sending South Korean weapons to Ukraine to Russia sending weapons to North Korea.

Moreover, the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula caused by North Korea's missile tests have induced the United States and South Korea to boost military cooperation and carry out joint military exercises.

With such background, it is possible that South Korea's no-weapons policy might have changed somewhat, especially after the United States announced that North Korea was planning to send artillery pieces to Russia via third countries.

For its part, South Korea is becoming a major arms exporter thanks to the war in Ukraine. This year, South Korean authorities announced billions of dollars in arms sales to Poland, a country that has actively supported Ukraine in repelling the Russian invasion.

As much as Seoul tries to stick to the letter of its no-weapons policy, South Korean support for Ukraine (even if through an intermediary) appears to be increasingly hard to deny.

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