South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday, his first since taking office. He is due to meet in the afternoon with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who hopes to obtain weapons from the country.
This Saturday, the South Korean president was in Bucha, the scene of a massacre of civilians by Russian troops, and also in Irpin, the target of missile attacks.
South Korea is the ninth world exporter of weapons, but so far it has only provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, invaded in February 2022 by Russia, and sold tanks and artillery pieces to Poland, one of Kiev’s main allies.
The South Korean government has a policy of not supplying arms to regions in conflict, despite numerous requests made by the United States, Europe and other countries to make an exception in the case of Ukraine.
The meeting between Yoon Suk Yeol and Zelensky should focus on this point: convincing South Koreans to change their minds. The Ukrainian president has already directly asked South Korea to send weapons to the country.
The South Koreans produce a large volume of artifacts compatible with NATO weaponry, including artillery ammunition, which is widely used in combat. Seoul has signaled in the past that it could switch to supplying weapons to Ukrainians in the event of attacks on civilians.
But, in May, he denied information in the American press that the country was organizing the delivery of rockets to Ukraine and reiterated his decision not to deliver lethal weapons to Ukrainian troops.
South Korea’s position is politically delicate: Russia was the 15th trading partner of the South Koreans in 2022. Furthermore, the country is one of the few that still exerts influence over North Korea, with which South Korea technically still at war. The South Koreans also manage the North Korean nuclear threat and border weapons tests.
On Friday, Ukraine reiterated that it will not negotiate with Russia as long as Moscow’s troops are in Ukrainian territory. The statement was given by the head of the presidential office of Kiev, Andrii Yermak.
“Negotiations will only be possible after Russian troops leave our territory,” Yermak insisted. “Everybody knows we’re not going to talk to the Russians” before then, he added.
The conflict began in February 2022, with the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Kiev forces are carrying out a slow counter-offensive in the east and south of the country and on Friday announced a 1.7-kilometer advance towards the city of Melitopol.