May 26, 2023
SEOUL – South Korean military authorities said Thursday that a report by the Wall Street Journal that the country is in the process of transferring hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery to Ukraine is “inaccurate,” and that the Korean government’s position “remains unchanged.”
Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-gyu told reporters that there was some discussion about the export of ammunition between the US Department of Defense and Korean companies, but the government cannot confirm or expand or the details.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Korea is proceeding with the transfer of artillery rounds for Ukraine, a decision that came soon after Washington and Seoul issued a joint declaration on security issues.
Jeon said that his ministry is actively reviewing support plans for Ukraine’s recent request for nonlethal military equipment, including tools for mine detection and removal.
The South Korean government, which had previously focused on providing only humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine, has recently shifted its stance and opened up to the possibility of providing military aid.
Before heading to Washington for a summit with US President Joe Biden, Yoon sat down with American news agency Reuters and said that his nation might extend its support for Ukraine beyond humanitarian and economic aid if Ukraine comes under a large-scale civilian attack.
A week later, Yoon also spoke with broadcaster NBC and said, “If the time comes when we must supply lethal weapons to Ukraine due to changes in the situation on the battlefield, there won’t be a situation where South Korea turns away from the joint efforts of the international community.”
Yoon’s national security adviser, Cho Tae-yong said, “If Ukraine has been invaded illegally, we will review the situation and consider other circumstances (beyond humanitarian and financial aid),” in response to a question asked by a lawmaker at the National Assembly regarding the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine.
South Korea has provided humanitarian, financial and nonlethal aid to Ukraine. The country pledged $100 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine last year. In February, it said it would provide an additional $130 million in financial aid to be used to help remove mines, restore the power grid and support reconstruction.
In November of last year, the US purchased 100,000 rounds of 155 mm shells from the South Korean government. Additionally, there have been reports stating that South Korea has agreed to provide 500,000 155 mm shells to the US in the form of a rental agreement.
Wi Sung-lac, a former South Korean representative to the six-party talks and ambassador to Russia, said, “Yoon’s consistent emphasis on protecting freedom through international solidarity has been quite prominent since his inauguration.”
“This has raised expectations within the international community that South Korea may consider providing lethal weapons to Ukraine,” he said. “But as the nation has not provided them despite the strong rhetoric, it likely faced substantial pressure from Western nations.”
Wi has the impression that Yoon’s stance has changed to back up his rhetoric with more action following his April visit to the US, where he placed significant emphasis on protecting freedom during his speech before the US Congress.