06.06.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

About Yoon Suk Yeol’s trip to Hiroshima and other meetings with European leaders. Part Two. The Ukrainian issue and the growing pressure on Seoul with the help of the fakes in the US media

The Ukrainian issue and the growing pressure on Seoul

As can be observed, the “Korean-Ukrainian theme” plays an important role in the author’s work since the United States and the rest of the Western world continue to put pressure on the South Korean leadership to change its position and begin delivering ammunition and military equipment to Ukraine. As was previously reported, Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, traveled to Seoul specifically for this purpose, but the issue resurfaced with renewed vigor before and after the G5 summit.

During his speech at the enlarged G7 summit, Yoon said that “in Ukraine, there is an ongoing attempt to change the status quo by force, leading to killings and serious violations of the freedom and prosperity of the people of Ukraine. This is a clear violation of international norms and the rule of law,” he said, without directly mentioning Russia.

Yoon Suk-yeol and Zelenskyy also had a meeting, which lasted 32 minutes. The president of Ukraine thanked the Republic of Korea for delivering medicine, generators, and other humanitarian aid supplies on time and expressed confidence that cooperation with the South Korea would continue to grow.

Additionally, Yoon and Zelenskyy both concurred that bilateral cooperation is essential for Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, including the inclusion of South Korean firms that could speed up the country’s recovery.

Regarding military assistance, the South Korean president reaffirmed that Seoul would continue to offer Kiev diplomatic, financial, and humanitarian support in close coordination with the rest of the world. He also pledged to use all reasonable means to ensure the prompt delivery of the supplies Ukraine currently requires.

These included hand-held minesweepers DVN-20K, K600 obstacle cleaning vehicles, and armored ambulances to evacuate the wounded from the battlefield. Furthermore, the Ukrainian side requested portable X-ray equipment and air defense radars, but Seoul has yet to determine what to send to Kiev. A review and selection process has begun, and a final list will be revealed later. Mine detectors, according to the author, rather yes, radars and obstacle cleaning vehicles – rather no, because of the specifics of their use they can be considered lethal weapons.

Therefore, yet again, Yoon could not be persuaded to supply arms, even though Zelenskyy had generally secured plenty of arms, ammunition, and “unwavering” diplomatic support from allies, and Joe Biden had promised to provide more “ammunition, artillery, armored vehicles” in addition to F-16 jets. The United States provided $375 million in extra ammunition for HIMAR rocket launchers, artillery rounds, anti-tank guided missiles, and thermal imaging systems

During the meeting with EU leaders and the subsequent joint statement, the Special Military Operation in Ukraine was once again condemned and put on par with the threat of North Korea, and judging by the wording, the document was not written by the Korean side:

“We reiterate our resolute condemnation of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, which constitutes a grave violation of international law. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the UN Charter and recall our unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and its inherent right of self-defense against the Russian aggression in accordance with the UN Charter. Russia must stop its aggression and immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. International humanitarian law, including on the treatment of prisoners of war, and international human rights law must be upheld.

We express support to ensure accountability for war crimes and other violations of international law committed in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and reiterate our support for the work of the International Criminal Court. We agree to maintain and increase the collective pressure on Russia, particularly through effective implementation of the respective restrictive measures We are committed to support Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction and remain resolved to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. We discussed ways of increasing our support for Ukraine to meet financial, material, security and humanitarian needs.”

What matters to the author, however, is not the repeated statements of the representatives of a united Europe, but the fact that once again Yoon did not use the summits as an excuse to change policy. On the one hand, Yoon’s statements and the outcome of the talks looked like another step by Seoul toward integration into the “international community.” On the other hand, Yoon did not go beyond ritualistic phrases of condemnation, so as to avoid complication of relations with Russia and China. But the transfer of radars and obstacle cleaning vehicles to Ukraine (given the way they are often used in urban combat) is dancing a few centimeters away from the red line.

On the third hand, Seoul seems to be seriously considering participation in the postwar reconstruction of Ukraine, and Won Hee-ryong, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, has already flown to Poland, where he met with his Ukrainian counterparts. Ukraine has already offered to share data on 5,000 postwar reconstruction projects with Korea, which, according to the South Korean media, is “illustrating a desire for Korea’s experience in smart city planning and infrastructure building.”

The data will be transmitted through a database called Dream, which clearly identifies the roles and powers of the regions of Ukraine in need of reconstruction, as well as cost estimates for the projects. After that, “Korea will immediately review data and share it with the government, state-run organizations and private entities.”

Won Hee-ryong announced plans to form an advisory body to oversee this area, which will include the agency he leads, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) and the Korea Overseas Infrastructure and Urban Development Corporation (KIND). The minister stressed that Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction has long-term strategic implications, as Korea needs to build its partnership with a European partner in order to secure a reliable ally in the European Union (EU).

The Seoul metropolitan government also promised to share its knowledge of the city’s postwar reconstruction. On May 22-23, 2023, more than 150 officials, businessmen and scholars from Korea, Poland and Ukraine, including officials from Seoul Housing & Communities Corp. an organization affiliated with the Seoul government, attended the event in Warsaw.

As a city that recovered from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul has promised to share with Ukraine its postwar experience and know-how in infrastructure construction, urban management and development models. The city government plans to propose eco-friendly models for smart city development, comparing them to the Sangam Digital Media City (DMC) and Magok in southwestern Seoul.

However, cooperation has not yet begun, and some problems are already arising. For example, after Olena Zelenska’s visit to Seoul, Ukrainian First Vice Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko suddenly announced that Korea’s financial obligations to her country would be much greater than announced. “The possibility of receiving the first tranche of up to $300 million will appear in 2023, within 3-4 months of the signing of the second phase of the agreement. The next tranche of up to $3 billion will become available in 2024, with the limit gradually increasing to $8 billion as the pipeline of projects is filled.” The Koreans were taken aback, and when members of the National Assembly questioned Foreign Minister Park Jin about it on May 24, he stated that the 8 billion was a fabrication, and that it was a loan, but that no figures, especially such high ones, were discussed at all.

On the same day, representatives of the ROK Foreign Ministry officially stated that Ukraine’s claim that additional financial support from Korea could reach $8 billion by 2024 was simply untrue. “Our ministry is considering providing Ukraine with nonlethal equipment such as portable X-ray devices and mine clearing equipment within the limit of $30 million this year, while an additional $100 million loan from the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) is under the review of the finance ministry. No other plans were announced or considered.”

After this incident, Kiev removed the passage about “billions of dollars” from its official website. Nevertheless, as the South Korean media noted, “yet there is still a considerable gap between the total of $130 million Korea said it would offer and the $300 million Kyiv apparently expects to receive,” and as of this writing the incorrect information has not been completely removed from Ukrainian websites.

That would have been the end of the article, but just as it was about to go to press, the US detonated another information bomb intended to force Seoul to finally send Kiev lethal weapons.

On May 24, 2023, the US Wall Street Journal published an article stating that “South Korea continues to transfer hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine.” Furthermore, according to US officials, the move would make Kiev’s planned offensive against Russian forces effective and allow the White House to postpone the difficult decision on whether to supply cluster munitions banned by many countries.”

The authors of the article believe that there is a secret agreement between Seoul and Washington, whereby shells sent to the US are allegedly sent to Ukraine. These are hundreds of thousands of 155 mm shells, which allows America to postpone the issue of transferring cluster munitions prohibited for use to Kiev, which the Ukrainians are requesting (the USA, Russia, Ukraine and China have not acceded to the Convention on the Prohibition of Cluster Munitions).

Seoul allegedly delivers the shells to the United States, which secures their delivery to Ukraine. After all, on April 12, Seoul and Washington signed an agreement that Korea would “loan” the United States 500,000 rounds of 155 millimeter ammunition. The South Korean Defense Ministry neither confirmed nor denied the reported deal at the time. Officially, the United States was the ultimate customer in all such arrangements, but the newspaper claims that such representations were used to deflect attention.

The newspaper interpreted its news as a dramatic change in the position of the South Korean government, which refused to help Ukraine by supplying lethal weapons, although it had previously reported that under a secret agreement in November 2022 South Korea had agreed to sell shells to the USA for the needs of the Ukrainian army. As it turns out, Seoul pledged to deliver shells but then refused to give lethal help in November 2022. The long-awaited decision was supposedly taken after the United States had been asking for assistance for months as its own artillery supplies were running thin. Incidentally, there have been previous rumors about the “secret agreement” and “Pentagon leaks” that Yoon Suk-yeol’s inner circle was allegedly discussing such options.

However, the Pentagon did not respond to the newspaper’s questions about how the US Department of Defense would transfer the shells to Kiev or when the transfer would be finalized, but acknowledged that the purchase of the shells was discussed with the South Korean government. Later, on May 24, responding to a question about discussions between Seoul and Washington about possible deliveries of South Korean-made ammunitions to Ukraine, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller refused to comment on any of the ongoing dialogue with South Korea, saying: “As usual, we will keep the content and subject of private diplomatic conversations private.”

The South Korean Defense Ministry also continues to claim that it has negotiated and continues to negotiate the supply of ammunition on condition that the end user is the United States, and that the policy of not supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine remains unchanged. On May 25, Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu said, regarding the report by the Wall Street Journal on May 24, that some of the content are inaccurate, but did not give specifics: “There were talks between the US Department of Defense and a Korean defense contractor to export a certain type of munitions, but I have restrictions on disclosing or confirming details.”

Here the author recalls previous fakes that South Korean weapons are already flowing into Ukraine. He would also like to remind the reader that Seoul does not really have the ability to control whether or not the United States would violate the agreement by sending shells to Ukraine that were supposed to replace the American shells for Kiev.

What complicates the situation is that South Korean 155mm shells do not differ much from US shells. And so long as the shell seized in Ukraine and branded “made in Korea” has not fallen into Russian hands, this information can neither be confirmed nor denied.

Therefore, for the author, the presence of South Korean shells in Ukraine is not proven, and “no data” does not mean yes or no, although in the world of post modernity and post-truth the absence of supporting facts turns into the truth of the matter as highly likely.

The author argues that this is intended to create a sense of “no smoke without fire” in the minds of those Russian politicians for whom Seoul is a loyal American vassal of China, rather than a country that, despite its loyalist rhetoric, is not currently trying to cross any red lines in relations with China and Russia. The idea is simple: the Russians will believe that Seoul is secretly supplying weapons to Ukraine, and Moscow will retaliate by launching a retaliatory strike that could hurt the remaining economic and cultural ties. And after such a strike, the United States is again asking the Republic of Korea, has it still not picked a side? Then, Seoul will have no option but to finally do what it was originally accused of doing.

In addition, there are, sadly, indications that Seoul might soon give up its position. On May 25, 2023, National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong and former Ambassador to the US stated that the question of whether to send ammunition support to Ukraine would be determined after examining the situation on the ground. During a parliamentary committee meeting, when asked if South Korea was planning to send ammunitions to Ukraine, Cho indicated, “We’ve been providing humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine until now. However, Ukraine came under an illegal invasion. This is something we intend to explore after we have monitored the situation on the ground and taken into account other factors.”

While Cho made it clear that at the moment there are “no immediate plans to send ammunition either directly or through Poland,” he declined to confirm whether Seoul is providing the US with 500,000 rounds of ammunition. And in response to the question whether Seoul sent 100,000 shells to the United States, 70,000 to Poland, and 330,000 to Europe to indirectly benefit Ukraine, he only said that “some of the facts are wrong.”

 It is also worth mentioning that the Japanese media are now reporting that it is “highly probable” that President Yoon Suk-yeol will visit Ukraine in July 2023. The president of the Republic of Korea is going to the NATO summit in Lithuania, but can theoretically visit Kiev as well. Some Western experts are confident that Seoul will make the final decision on the commencement of military assistance to Ukraine by this very time, solemnly announcing it while standing next to Zelenskyy against the background of “another war crime by the Russian Armed Forces.”

But for now, “Cadia stands,” and Yoon Suk-yeol tries to resist the pressure, which is over the top.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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