S. Korea’s Yoon puts arms support to Ukraine on the table, prompting warning from Russia

Posted on : 2023-04-20 16:49 KST Modified on : 2023-04-20 17:09 KST
The comment came during an interview with Reuters only a week before Yoon is set to meet Biden in Washington
President Yoon Suk-yeol attends a memorial ceremony at the April 19th National Cemetery in Seoul’s Gangbuk District on April 19. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol attends a memorial ceremony at the April 19th National Cemetery in Seoul’s Gangbuk District on April 19. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol hinted at the possibility of South Korea providing military aid to Ukraine, which is currently at war with Russia, if “any large-scale attack on civilians” were to take place.

This is the first time that the South Korean government has publicly considered a switch from its standing policy of not supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine. Russia was quick to respond, however, warning Seoul that providing Ukraine with arms would equate to intervening in the war.

Yoon was asked about South Korea’s position regarding arms aid to Ukraine in an interview with Reuters published on Wednesday.

“If there is a situation the international community cannot condone, such as any large-scale attack on civilians, massacre or serious violation of the laws of war, it might be difficult for us to insist only on humanitarian or financial support,” Yoon told the news agency.

“I believe there won\'t be limitations to the extent of the support to defend and restore a country that\'s been illegally invaded both under international and domestic law,\" Yoon said. “However, considering our relationship with the parties engaged in the war and developments in the battlefield, we will take the most appropriate measures,” the president added.

The Reuters interview was held on Wednesday at the presidential office in Yongsan ahead of the upcoming South Korea-US summit to be held in Washington on Wednesday, April 26.

“It was the first time that Seoul suggested a willingness to provide weapons to Ukraine, more than a year after ruling out the possibility of lethal aid,” the Reuters article stated.

“South Korea has so far tried to avoid antagonising Russia due to its companies operating there and Moscow\'s influence over North Korea,” the article pointed out.

Although Western countries such as the US have long been requesting South Korea provide Ukraine with arms, the government in Seoul has adhered to a policy of limiting its aid to humanitarian items such as bulletproof helmets, food and medicine.

Last week, it was revealed that South Korea would be lending 155-millimeter shells to the US. This has become the subject of controversy due to the possibility that Ukraine may end up using the Korean shells in the war. Still, Seoul stated that there had been “no change” in its conditions of not providing lethal weapon aid to Ukraine and on the US being the “end user” of shells exported to the US.

A key presidential office official met with reporters to address the controversy, emphasizing that the government’s position had not changed at this point and that Yoon’s remarks were made in the context of there being specific preconditions.

Meanwhile, the opposition expressed concern over the president’s comments.

“Providing military support to a conflict area is an action that harms [our] national interests and should never be done,” Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung told reporters at the National Assembly. “I strongly call on the president to reconsider this decision, which seriously harms the national interests of the Republic of Korea.”

Russia was also quick to voice its public displeasure at Yoon’s apparent volte-face. On Thursday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned that South Korea sending weapons supplies to Ukraine “would imply a certain involvement in this conflict,” Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

In response, the spokesperson for Yoon’s office issued a press release stating that “the Kremlin’s spokesperson’s remarks are related to a hypothetical situation and we will not comment on this,” adding that they suggested the Kremlin “carefully read the content of president Yoon’s interview.”

The spokesperson’s office particularly emphasized that Yoon said South Korea would “take the most appropriate measures” taking into consideration “our relationship with the parties engaged in the war.”

A decision on whether South Korea will send arms to Ukraine has reportedly not been made yet.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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