South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has said that if Russia helped North Korea enhance its weapons programmes in return for assistance for its war in Ukraine, it would be “a direct provocation” and Seoul and its allies would not stand idly by.
In a speech on Wednesday to the annual high-level UN General Assembly, Yoon said such a scenario would threaten the peace and security of not only Ukraine but also South Korea.
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Yoon made the comments just as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returned to Pyongyang from a six-day trip to Russia, his longest foreign travel as a leader.
During Kim’s visit, the two countries said they discussed boosting their defence ties but didn’t disclose any specific steps. Foreign experts speculate the two countries, both locked in confrontations with the West, were pushing to reach arms transfer deals in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
In separate reports, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim’s train crossed a border river on Monday morning, and Kim was greeted by the “ardent” cheers of a huge crowd at a Pyongyang rail station Tuesday evening. Wednesday’s KCNA report said senior North Korean officials congratulated him on advancing relations with Russia.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes were not only an existential threat to South Korea but a serious challenge to peace in the Indo-Pacific region and across the globe, Yoon said on Wednesday.
“It is paradoxical that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, entrusted as the ultimate guardian of world peace, would wage war by invading another sovereign nation and receive arms and ammunition from a regime that blatantly violates UN Security Council resolutions,” he said.
Seoul and Washington have expressed concern that Russia could be trying to acquire ammunition from North Korea to supplement stockpiles thinning as a result of its war in Ukraine, while Pyongyang seeks technological help for its nuclear and missile programmes.
“If [North Korea] acquires the information and technology necessary to enhance its WMD capabilities in exchange for supporting Russia with conventional weapons, the deal will be a direct provocation, threatening the peace and security of not only Ukraine but also the Republic of Korea,” Yoon said.
“The Republic of Korea, together with its allies and partners, will not stand idly by.”
Any activities assisting North Korea’s weapons programmes are banned under UN Security Council resolutions, and Putin has said that Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, would “never violate anything”.
A South Korean presidential aide rejected this, saying South Korea had been “watching military transactions take place for several months prior to the summit” between Kim and Putin.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia wants to expand ties with North Korea in all possible areas.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Vice Minister Chang Ho-jin summoned Russia’s ambassador to urge Moscow to abandon any potential arms deals with North Korea, warning of “clear consequences.”
The South Korean presidential aide said discussions were under way with the United States and other countries to impose more sanctions on Russia and North Korea.
“The Security Council is divided … and it is impossible to draw a unified position on Russia there, so for now there could be cohesive action within the solidarity of freedom, cantering around allies and friends,” the official said.