South Korea to review arms policy on Ukraine after Russia-North Korea pact

Nato urges democracies to respond to “growing alignment” of authoritarian states

Russia's president Vladimir Putin and Vietnam's president To Lam raise a glass toast during a reception at the Hanoi Opera House in Hanoi on Thursday. Photograph: Gavriil Grigorov/AFP via Getty Images

South Korea said it would reconsider its policy of not sending arms to Ukraine after Russia and North Korea signed a mutual defence pact, as Nato urged democracies to work together to counter the “growing alignment” of authoritarian states.

Russian president Vladimir Putin moved on from North Korea to Vietnam on Thursday, as his military struck Ukraine’s power grid again and Romania said it would provide Kyiv with another advanced US-made Patriot air defence system.

The strategic partnership agreed by Mr Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was denounced by the West and its Asian allies, who raised particular concern over their pledge to provide “mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties” and to explore possible “military-technical co-operation”.

The US and South Korea say Pyongyang is supplying Russia with missiles and shells for its war in Ukraine, and suspect that North Korea wants rocket and satellite know-how in return. Moscow and Pyongyang deny trading arms and insist they are not breaching United Nations sanctions on Mr Kim’s missile and nuclear programmes.


“It is absurd that two parties with a history of launching wars of invasion – the Korean War and the war in Ukraine – are now vowing mutual military co-operation on the premise of a pre-emptive attack by the international community that will never happen,” the office of South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol said in a statement.

“In particular, Russia’s decision to support North Korea and cause harm to our security … will inevitably have a negative impact on [Seoul-Moscow] relations.”

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South Korean national security adviser Chang Ho-jin said his country would now “further strengthen” security co-operation with the US and Japan and also “reconsider the issue of arms support to Ukraine”.

Seoul is a major weapons producer and exporter but has provided Kyiv with only non-lethal aid in a bid to maintain relations with Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of its pro-western neighbour in February 2022. Mr Kim told Mr Putin that he had North Korea’s “unconditional support” for his war on Ukraine.

Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Vietnamese officials on arrival in Vietnam. Photograph: AP

Japan warned that any co-operation between Russia and North Korea on weapons technology “could be a direct violation” of UN resolutions and said Mr Putin’s call for a review of sanctions on Pyongyang was “unacceptable”.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said electronics and other “dual-use” items sent from China to Russia were “fuelling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War Two”. North Korea “has delivered over one million shells [to Russia] and Iran has delivered thousands of deadly Shahed drones,” he added.

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“We are deeply concerned that in exchange, Pyongyang and Tehran could receive Russian technology and supplies to help them advance their missile and nuclear programmes… The growing alignment between Russia and its authoritarian friends in Asia makes it even more important that we work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific,” he said, noting that Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea had been invited to next month’s Nato summit in Washington.

Mr Putin signed several deals in fields ranging from energy to education with Vietnamese counterpart To Lam, who said their states also wanted to “further co-operate in defence and security”.

Vladimir Putin adjusts his headphones during an event with Vietnam's president To Lam at the Hanoi Opera House. Photograph: Manan Vatsayana/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine said it shot down all 27 attack drones and five of nine missiles fired by Russia on Thursday, but a power station was badly damaged and other energy infrastructure was hit by falling debris.

Kyiv thanked Romania for pledging to supply it with another Patriot air defence system. The Financial Times reported that the US was planning to halt deliveries of Patriot systems and missiles to other countries until Ukraine had enough in its arsenal.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe