South Korea to consider supplying arms to Ukraine after Putin-Kim pact

Tensions rise on Korean peninsula after Russian president raises giving Pyongyang high-precision weapons

South Korea fired warning shots to repel North Korean soldiers who temporarily crossed the land border. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

South Korea has said it would consider sending weapons to Ukraine in a warning to Vladimir Putin after the Russian president signed a mutual defence pact with North Korea amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

“We will reconsider the issue of supplying weapons to Ukraine,” South Korean national security adviser Chang Ho-jin told reporters late on Thursday after Mr Putin, who visited Pyongyang for the first time in more than 20 years, said he would consider supplying high-precision weapons to North Korea.

“Any co-operation that helps increase North Korea’s military power is a violation of the UN Security Council,” Mr Chang added. “It doesn’t make sense to promise military co-operation, assuming a pre-strike by the international community that will not happen.”

South Korea’s foreign ministry on Friday summoned Russia’s ambassador in protest against the strategic partnership, under which Mr Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to deploy “military and other assistance” in the event of conflict.


Seoul’s foreign minister Cho Tae-yul and US state secretary of state Antony Blinken condemned the deal as a serious threat to regional peace and stability. The officials agreed to “strengthen the US-Korea alliance’s deterrence power and security co-operation” with Japan, Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

South Korea has condemned Russia’s invasion and provided non-lethal aid to Ukraine but has resisted international pressure to supply Kyiv with weapons, citing a long-standing policy of not giving weapons to countries involved in an active conflict.

South Korea to review arms policy on Ukraine after Russia-North Korea pactOpens in new window ]

South Korea has recently retaliated for North Korea’s waste-carrying balloon launches with propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts at border areas. Photograph: South Korea defence ministry/AP

US state department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would “welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, but that’s ultimately a decision for South Korea”. He added that the prospect of Russia supplying North Korea with high-precision weapons was “incredibly concerning” and would “destabilise the Korean peninsula”.

Mr Putin warned on Thursday, while on a trip to Vietnam, that it would be a “big mistake” for Seoul to begin supplying weapons to Ukraine. Western countries have accused North Korea of supplying Russia with munitions, artillery shells and ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine.

The threats came amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula. South Korean soldiers fired warning shots after North Korean soldiers crossed the demilitarised zone between the countries on Thursday, in the third such incident this month.

The intrusion was “unintentional” and the North Korean soldiers immediately returned, according to Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff.

A South Korean civic group drew threats from Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, on Friday after they dispatched balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets, USB drives containing South Korean dramas and popular songs and US dollars over the border.

Seoul has also resumed loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the border after North Korea sent balloons filled with waste material into South Korea.

“No doubt that they will get to suffer unnecessarily from doing what we told them not to,” Kim Yo Jong told Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea: Kim pledges ‘unconditional support’ for Russia’s Ukraine war during Putin visitOpens in new window ]

South Korea has supported weapons supplies to Ukraine by replenishing depleted stocks in the US and other Nato countries such as Poland, but experts said Seoul should be cautious about pursuing direct supplies.

“If Korea decides to directly supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, Russia will likely step up its pressure on South Korea politically, diplomatically and militarily by accelerating its tech transfer for North Korea’s nuclear and weapons programmes,” said Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies, adding that such a move would require changing domestic military laws, which would struggle to secure parliamentary approval.

“Rather than an emotional short-term response, South Korea needs to take a longer-term fundamental action through a stronger alliance with the US and Japan,” said Kim Jae-chun, a professor at Sogang University and a former government adviser. “Directly supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine runs the risk of justifying the strategic partnership that North Korea and Russia just signed.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024