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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 13)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:07 April 13, 2022

More support for Ukraine
Yet Korea hesitant to supply weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked South Korea to provide weapons to help his country defend itself against Russia. He made the request in a 15-minute virtual address to Korean lawmakers at the National Assembly on Monday, 47 days after Russia invaded Ukraine.

"We would be grateful if the Republic of Korea could help us stand up against Russia," Zelenskyy said. He noted that Korea has the military hardware that can stop Russia's vessels and missiles. "If Ukraine receives such weapons, not only will they save the lives of ordinary people, but it will be a chance to save Ukraine."

He also referred to the 1950-53 Korean War to make an emotional plea for help, just as he mentioned the Holocaust in a similar speech to the Knesset in Israel. "You experienced war in the 50s, and numerous civilians lost their lives. But South Korea overcame it," he said, adding that the international community provided much help to the country.

His request for lethal weapons such as military airplanes and tanks demonstrated how desperate Ukraine is for its survival in the face of brutal Russian attacks on his country, including the massacres of civilians. At the end of his speech, he showed a video clip featuring the devastation caused by the Russian military in Mariupol, including images of weeping adults, dying children and bodies being thrown into mass graves.

South Korea cannot turn a deaf ear to Zelenskyy's demand for more help. The country suffered the internecine war in the early 1950s which started with an invasion by North Korea. It claimed the lives of 2.5 million civilians. But the South managed to defend itself with the help of the international community as Zelenskyy pointed out. Sixteen countries sent troops to fight for the South with six others providing medical supplies and other assistance.

We should not forget such support. However, we feel regret for not fully complying with Zelenskyy's request. During a phone conversation between the defense ministers of the two countries last Friday, Ukraine asked Korea for anti-aircraft weapon systems to shoot down enemy helicopters and planes. But South Korea's defense ministry had to turn down the request, citing the precarious security situation here.

The Seoul government finds it difficult to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine amid an emerging new Cold War pitting the U.S. and its allies against Russia and China. South Korea is increasingly getting caught up in such a confrontation which could force Seoul to align with Washington and Tokyo against Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow. Against this backdrop, Seoul's potential provision of weapons to Ukraine is feared to cause a backlash from Russia.

Nevertheless, South Korea should not give the impression that it is only bent on protecting its own national interests. Seoul has provided 10 billion won ($804,100) worth of medical items and non-lethal military supplies, including bulletproof helmets and blankets, to Ukraine. It is necessary to expand such assistance. The outgoing Moon Jae-in government and the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration need to consult more closely with the U.S. and other countries to find a proper way to help Ukraine.

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