Seoul has claimed the Wall Street Journal report was partly “inaccurate” but declined to specify further
FILE PHOTO: South Korean soldiers arrange 155mm howitzer shells during a military exercise in Goseong, South Korea, April 4, 2016. © AP / Newsis / Jang Se-young
South Korea has agreed to send hundreds of thousands of artillery shells to Ukraine under a “confidential arrangement” with the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported. The move would mark an about-face for Seoul, which has been reluctant to authorize lethal aid to Kiev.
Under the reported agreement, South Korea will first ship the munitions to the US, which will then forward them on to Ukraine, sources told the WSJ on Wednesday. Seoul and the Pentagon have so far declined to confirm the transfer, though both acknowledged ongoing talks on the issue.
However, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Jeon Ha-kyu said there were “inaccurate parts” in the WSJ report during a press briefing later on Wednesday, though did not specify further.
“There have been various discussions and requests, and our government will take appropriate measures while comprehensively reviewing the war and humanitarian situation in Ukraine,” Jeon said.
While South Korea initially announced it would send munitions last November under another behind-the-scenes deal with the US, it later “got cold feet” after the agreement was reported in the media, American officials told the outlet. At the time, Seoul reportedly feared the decision would violate its policy against providing anything beyond non-lethal aid to Ukraine, though officials were also hesitant to deny a request from Washington, a close ally.
Since then, the Pentagon has scrambled to meet Ukraine’s massive demand for shells, even tapping into US-owned weapons stocks in Israel, Germany, Kuwait and South Korea to make up for the shortage. The White House has authorized the transfer of more than 2 million 155-millimeter shells to Kiev since the conflict with Russia escalated last year, exhausting US stockpiles.
South Korea’s alleged reversal comes after President Yoon Suk-yeol visited the US capital last month, where he vowed to support Kiev and take all “proper measures in order to uphold the international norms and international law.” He gave no indication that Seoul would approve transfers of artillery rounds, however.
The Journal suggested the supply of deadly munitions by South Korea would allow US officials to put off the provision of American-made cluster bombs, which Ukraine has repeatedly requested throughout the conflict. Human rights groups have criticized the use of such weapons, as they often leave behind undetonated “bomblets” which pose a hazard to civilians, sometimes even years or decades after a conflict is over. They are banned by more than 110 nations under a 2010 treaty, though the US, Ukraine and Russia are not signatories.