SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday called on South Korea to provide direct military support to Ukraine, saying Kiev urgently needs weapons to fight a prolonged Russian invasion.
South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a large U.S.-backed military, has provided humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine while joining U.S.-led economic sanctions against Moscow. But the country has not directly delivered weapons to Ukraine, citing a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively involved in the conflict.
Speaking at a forum in Seoul, Stoltenberg urged South Korea to “step up the specific issue of military support.” He noted that several NATO members and allies, including Germany, Norway and Sweden, have changed their policy of not exporting arms to countries in conflict to support Ukraine.
“If we believe in freedom, if we believe in democracy, if we don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win, then they need weapons. That’s the reality,” said Stoltenberg, who arrived in South Korea on Sunday on a trip that also includes Japan.
On Monday, Stoltenberg also met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. They discussed South Korea’s commitment to support Ukraine and NATO’s possible role in deterring North Korea from its growing nuclear ambitions after an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests in 2022, Yoon’s office said.
South Korean officials have not confirmed any specific talks about sending weapons to Ukraine.
After a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin on Sunday, Stoltenberg mentioned US intelligence reports accusing North Korea of providing weapons to Russia to support its war in Ukraine, which he said underscored how security between the regions ” more and more interconnected”.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, South Korea has struck major deals to supply NATO-member Poland with tanks, howitzers, fighter jets and other weapons systems. A US official said in November that the United States had agreed to buy 100,000 artillery rounds from South Korean manufacturers to deliver to Ukraine, although South Korean officials said the ammunition was to replenish depleted US supplies.
In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Yoon said South Korean laws, as well as domestic public opinion, make it difficult for his government to arm Ukraine while it is at war. But he expressed openness to more arms deals with the United States in the future, noting that the two allies regularly buy military equipment from each other.
Stoltenberg’s comments at the forum came hours after North Korea condemned his visits to South Korea and Japan, saying NATO was trying to put its “military boots in the region” and trying to pressure America’s Asian allies to provide weapons to Ukraine.
In a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korea said increasing cooperation between NATO and US allies in Asia was part of a move to create an “Asian version of NATO” that would raise tensions in the region.
North Korea also issued two separate statements over the weekend condemning the United States for its decision to supply advanced tanks to Ukraine, calling it a sinister move to escalate a “proxy war” aimed at destroying Moscow.
The series of statements underscored North Korea’s alignment with Russia over the war in Ukraine, which Pyongyang blames on the West.
However, the North has repeatedly denied US accusations that it is sending large stockpiles of artillery shells and other munitions to Russia to support its offensive in Ukraine, and warned on Sunday that the Biden administration would face unspecified “undesirable” consequences if it continued to expand. “spontaneous rumours”.