Being an ally of the US, South Korea was pressured by the Biden administration to help Ukraine amidst the war and South Korea bowed down to the pressure. But, one statement, yes, just one statement from Vladimir Putin changed it all.
Seoul till now has helped the Ukrainian military with helmets, bulletproof vests and other non-lethal military equipment in addition to medical supplies. But, just a few days ago, a report by Czech daily iDnes claimed that the Chiron man-portable air defence system (MANPADS) from South Korea is about to fall into the hands of the Ukrainian military. So, as per the plan, South Korea will indirectly provide Ukraine with armament worth about $2.9 billion through the Czech Republic.
The move was seen as a change in South Korean policy regarding Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning to South Korea after the revelation at a summit of international foreign policy specialists called the Valdai Discussion Club. According to the state-run Sputnik news agency of Russia, the president informed the conference that he was aware of South Korea’s plan to give Ukraine weapons and ammunition. They reported that Putin accused the West of fuelling the war. Putin added that the West was engaged in a “dangerous, bloody, and dirty” geopolitical game that was causing turmoil around the globe.
He warned South Korea not to give arms to Ukraine since doing so would sour relations between Seoul and Moscow. Putin further threw the ball in Seoul’s court, “How would the Republic of Korea react to the fact if we started, if we resume cooperation with North Korea in this area?”
When asked what was his message to people of Europe and US, he said, ““Russia is your friend and we have been doing everything for decades and are ready to do everything in the future in order to strengthen our relations.”
South Korea’s clarification
As soon as Putin issued the warning, South Korea denied sending any ‘lethal weapons’ to Ukraine. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told reporters, “We’ve provided humanitarian and peaceful assistance to Ukraine in solidarity with the international community but never lethal weapons or any such things.”
He emphasised that he won’t do anything that would harm the relations between Seoul and Moscow. “I’d like you to know that we are trying to maintain peaceful and good relations with all countries around the world, including Russia.” South Korea, an ally of the United States, has insisted it will not give Ukraine lethal assistance and has made efforts to avoid enraging Russia for economic reasons and the influence Moscow has over North Korea.
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This is in continuation to the policy they had followed since the beginning of the war. South Korea had denied a Ukrainian request for the anti-aircraft system in April. Oleksiy Reznikov, the defence minister of Ukraine, had made the request during a phone conversation with Suh Wook, the defence minister of South Korea.
Clearly, South Korea too has been mistaken by Western media’s narrative that Russia can be easily walked over with. But, Putin’s statement rang alarm bells in South Korea. The countries established diplomatic relations in 1990. Their relations got intensified in 2008 when Seoul and Moscow upgraded their bilateral ties to a Strategic Co-operative Partnership. Since then, the two nations have only strengthened their governmental and non-governmental channels of collaboration and enhanced high-level exchange.
In 2021, Korea imported 17.35 billion USD from Russia while exporting 9.98 billion USD to Russia. By 2021, Korea had invested a total of USD 4.06 billion in Russia. After Putin’s warning, Seoul realised that any extreme step such as sending weapons to Ukraine would be disastrous. Further, the fact that North Korea was backed by Russia was spine-tingling to it. Alas, another hope of Ukraine has been dashed by Putin by just one statement.
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