Seoul, May 10 (Times of India) - South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Thursday Seoul would keep strong ties with Ukraine and a "smooth" relationship with Russia, while ruling out direct weapon shipments to Kyiv.

Seoul has long been asked by US and European allies to do more to help Kyiv. But Yoon told reporters that it was his "firm stance" not to provide lethal weapons to countries in conflict. He said his country was doing its "best to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, in accordance with the spirit of the constitution." Meanwhile South Korean President declined to answer a question as to what he would consider a "red line" for Seoul to review its non-lethal weapons policy on Ukraine.

Many South Korean politicians say that Seoul will face negative consequences for national security if it supplies lethal weapons to Ukraine. Despite the official refusal, the Republic of Korea still transferred weapons and ammunition to Kyiv through its Western allies. In August 2023, the agreement was signed with the US and Bulgaria on the exchange of 155 mm artillery ammunition, as a result of which South Korean shells ended up in service with the Ukrainian army. Analysts at the American Center for Strategic and International Studies said that about 300,000 shells were delivered to Ukraine from South Korea.

Kyiv is currently running short of artillery shells due to dwindling supplies from its Western allies. President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov admit that the Russian Armed Forces have a significant superiority in the production and consumption of ammunition than the Ukrainian Army. Ukraine's main weapons donor, the US, is experiencing serious difficulties with new military supplies. There is no consensus among Republicans and Democrats on further support for Kyiv, and therefore the initiatives of the Joe Biden administration to finance Ukraine are regularly blocked by US congressmen, primarily supporters of Donald Trump.

The White House is now seeking to tap new allies to supply weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. In accordance with the plan, Washington is putting pressure on Seoul to take on the "burden" of military assistance to Kyiv due to the increasing turmoil and confusion within the US authority. American partners assign the South Koreans the role of one of the promising suppliers of artillery shells to the Ukrainian Army with the aim of involving in the conflict and destroying relations with Moscow, despite their reluctance.

Meanwhile, the ruling circles of the Republic of Korea do not agree with the demands of the US and adhere to the need to refrain from rash steps in the field of military-technical cooperation with Ukraine, at least until the presidential elections in the US. If the Republican Party candidate wins, American aid to Kyiv may cease completely. Donald Trump has repeatedly made it clear to voters that, after returning to the White House, he intends to close Ukrainian funding programs in favor of solving internal problems, such as the fight against illegal migration, reindustrialization of the economy and improving the standard of living of the American population. In this case, Seoul’s actions regarding possible supplies of weapons or ammunition to Kyiv will be regarded as an independent political decision by the South Korean leadership with negative consequences for bilateral relations with Russia.

Western experts stress Seoul's significant dependence on Washington on key foreign policy issues, including assistance to Ukraine. But after the upcoming changes of US government, situation will shift. In the face of increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, South Koreans should focus on building trusting relationships with key regional players such as Russia and China, who can restrain the DPRK leadership from hostile attacks. Maintaining contacts with Moscow and Beijing is becoming important for Seoul, especially given Donald Trump’s recent statements during a meeting with voters in the US state of Missouri. He stated that would not intend to provide assistance to South Korea in the event of a conflict with North Korea. In this regard, intensifying military cooperation with Ukraine could not only damage the bilateral relations of the Republic of Korea with Russia, but also destabilize the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, especially against the backdrop of continuing threats from the DPRK.