South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said the international community “will unite more tightly” to cope with deepening military cooperation between Russia and North Korea, as he plans to raise the issue with world leaders at the UN General Assembly this week.
Worries about Russian-North Korean ties have flared since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un traveled to Russia last week for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to tour a slew of high-profile military and technology sites. Foreign experts speculate Kim could refill Russia’s ammunition inventory drained in its 18-month war with Ukraine in return for economic aid and technologies to modernize his weapons systems targeting South Korea and the US.
“Military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is illegal and unjust as it contravenes UN Security Council resolutions and various other international sanctions,” Yoon said in written responses to questions from The Associated Press before his departure to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
“The international community will unite more tightly in response to such a move,” he said.
In his address on Wednesday at the annual UN gathering, Yoon would speak about his assessment of the Russian-North Korean moves, his office in South Korea said, adding that it is discussing countermeasures with the US, Japan and other partners.
While Russian-North Korean cooperation is feared to fuel Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, it has also stoked security jitters in South Korea, where many think a Russian transfer of sophisticated weapons technologies would help North Korea acquire a functioning spy satellite, a nuclear-powered submarine and more powerful missiles. Some experts still say North Korea would end up receiving food and cash in return for supplying ammunition and shells because Russia closely guards its high-tech weapons technologies.
North Korea’s advancing nuclear arsenal has been a major source of tensions in the region, with it openly threatening to use nuclear weapons in potential conflicts with its rivals and conducting a barrage of missile tests since last year. In response, Yoon and US President Joe Biden in April agreed to expand joint military exercises, increase the temporary deployments of US strategic assets and launch a bilateral nuclear consultative group.
“Our two countries [South Korea and the US] reaffirmed that any nuclear attack by North Korea will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response that will bring about the end of the regime,” Yoon said.
“Going forward, [South Korea]-US extended deterrence will develop into a joint system in which both countries discuss, decide and act together,” he said. “We will also enhance the ability to deter and respond to any nuclear or missile threat from North Korea.”
Since entering Russia on Tuesday last week, Kim has inspected some of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems including nuclear-capable bombers, fighter jets, hypersonic missiles and a warship. During a summit with Putin on Wednesday, Kim vowed “full and unconditional support” for Putin.
Some South Koreans have called on their government to consider providing lethal weapons to Ukraine in retaliation against Russia’s possible weapons technology transfers.
However, the South Korean Ministry of Defense said its policy of not supplying weapons to countries at war remains unchanged.
Yoon recently announced South Korea would provide an additional US$300 million to Ukraine next year, on top of the US$150 million promised this year.
South Korea would prepare for a mid-term to long-term support package worth more than US$2 billion, Yoon said.
South Korea has provided Ukraine with demining equipment, emergency evacuation vehicles, pickup trucks, medical supplies, tablet PCs and other items. South Korea would continue to communicate closely with Ukraine next year to send it what is truly needed, Yoon said.
Since taking office last year, Yoon, a conservative, has made a bolstered military alliance with the US the heart of his foreign policy while pushing to move beyond history disputes with Japan and expand a trilateral Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security cooperation.
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