South Korea’s Yoon Calls for a Strong Military amid Deepening North Korean-Russian Ties

South Korea Defense Ministry via AP
In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, the USS Robert Smalls cruiser fires during a joint naval exercise between South Korea and the United State in South Korea’s East Sea, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s president on Tuesday urged his troops to build an “unwavering military spirt” and train harder, as he used an Armed Forces Day speech to vow immediate retaliation against any potential provocation by North Korea.

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s speech came amid growing concern that North Korea is pushing to acquire Russian support to boost its nuclear arsenal in return for refilling Russia’s conventional arms stores exhausted by its war with Ukraine.

“Above all, the cornerstone of our robust national defense lies in your unwavering military spirit, strong commitment, and a clear definition of who your enemies are,” Yoon said to troops during the Armed Forces Day ceremony, after reviewing soldiers and weapons systems at a military airport near Seoul.

“I strongly urge you to train hard every day with the discipline demanded in real combat situations,” Yoon said.

Yoon called North Korea’s advancing nuclear program “an existential threat to our people,” but said South Korea’s military will immediately retaliate against any North Korean provocation. He reiterated that if North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its government will be brought to an end by “an overwhelming response” by the South Korean and U.S. forces.

Worries about North Korean-Russia military ties flared earlier this month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traveled to Russia’s far eastern region, held a summit with President Vladimir Putin and visited key military sites there.

North Korea reportedly wants to receive Russian technologies to complete the development of spy satellites, nuclear-propelled submarines and powerful long-range missiles. If complete, such weapons systems would pose a major security threat to South Korea and the U.S., experts say.

During his Tuesday’s speech, Yoon didn’t mention North Korean-Russian ties. But while addressing the U.N. General Assembly last week, Yoon said South Korea “will not sit idly by” if North Korea and Russia agree to such weapons transfers deals in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that bans all weapons trade involving North Korea.

U.S. officials have also warned that North Korea and Russia would face consequences if they go ahead with such banned deals.