South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has revealed that his country may break its decades-long policy of not sending arms to a war zone, as tensions escalate between Ukraine and Russia.
In an interview ahead of his state visit to the United States next week, Yoon said that his government has been exploring how to help defend and rebuild Ukraine, just as South Korea received international assistance during the Korean War.
While South Korea is a key US ally and a major producer of artillery ammunition, it has so far tried to avoid antagonising Russia due to its companies operating there and Moscow’s influence over North Korea, despite mounting pressure from western countries to supply weapons to Ukraine.
However, President Yoon said he may extend support for Ukraine beyond humanitarian and economic aid if it comes under a large-scale civilian attack, signalling a shift in his stance against arming Ukraine for the first time.
“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 said to Reuters.
Yoon’s announcement comes amid an ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.
Since then, Ukraine has been fighting a war against Russian-backed separatists in the eastern region of Donbass.
The conflict has resulted in thousands of deaths and has left many more displaced.
President Yoon is scheduled to visit Washington next week for a summit with US President Joe Biden to mark the 70th anniversary of the two countries’ alliance.
During the summit, Yoon said he will seek “tangible outcomes” on the allies’ efforts to improve responses to evolving threats from North Korea, which has ramped up military tests and launched its first solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile last week.
Yoon said he is open to peace talks but opposes any “surprise” summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “show off” to voters out of domestic political interests.
In February, South Korea and the US staged table-top exercises simulating a North Korea nuclear attack as part of Seoul’s efforts to play a bigger role in Washington’s nuclear policy over the North.
As tensions continue to rise between Ukraine and Russia, South Korea’s announcement may signal a shift in the international community’s response to the conflict.
However, it remains to be seen whether other countries will follow suit and supply weapons to Ukraine, as the conflict continues to pose a threat to the stability of the region.