Ukraine’s Zelenskiy Urges South Korea to Provide Defense Systems

Yonhap via REUTERS/File Photo
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shake hands during the G7 leaders’ summit in Hiroshima, Japan, May 21, 2023.

SEOUL (Reuters) – Ukraine “desperately hopes” that South Korea will provide defensive military equipment such as anti-aircraft systems to fend off Russian attacks, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was cited as saying in an interview with a South Korean newspaper.

Zelenskiy expressed gratitude over South Korea’s pledge to send demining vehicles and humanitarian aid totalling some $230 million, but said Ukraine wanted anti-aircraft and early warning systems, the Chosun Ilbo daily reported on Tuesday.

“I know there are many limitations regarding weapons support, but those principles should not be applied to defense systems and equipment for protecting our assets,” Zelenskiy told the newspaper through an interpreter.

“An anti-aircraft system is not a weapon but purely defensive equipment. We have to have a sky shield to rebuild Ukraine, and I desperately hope that South Korea will support us in this area.”

He said South Korea’s early warning system would help defend his country from Russian air raids, the report said.

A U.S. ally and major arms exporter, South Korea had so far ruled out sending lethal aid to Ukraine, citing business ties with Russia and Moscow’s influence over North Korea, despite mounting pressure from Washington and Europe to supply weapons.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, in an interview with Reuters in April, signaled the possibility of a change, saying it might be difficult for Seoul to continue to give only humanitarian and financial help if Ukraine faced a large-scale civilian attack or a “situation the international community cannot condone.”

Yoon and Zelenskiy met for the first time this month on the sidelines of a summit of Group of Seven leaders in Japan, after which Seoul vowed to supply demining equipment and additional humanitarian aid.

Zelenskiy also requested South Korean military support in a video address to South Korean lawmakers in April, including armored vehicles, as well as anti-aircraft, anti-tank and anti-ship weapons.