Through a secretive armaments agreement between Seoul and Washington, South Korea will for the first time provide artillery rounds to Ukrainian soldiers. This action reflects a worldwide drive for ammunition after months of conflict with Russia.
According to U.S. sources familiar with the agreement, the U.S. would buy 100,000 rounds of 155mm artillery ammo and ship it to Ukraine, providing the country's artillery forces with adequate ammunition for at least several weeks of intense action.
By passing the agreement via the US, South Korea can uphold its public promise not to provide Ukraine with deadly military help while aiding Washington, Seoul's most important partner in deterring North Korea.
The U.S. will be able to provide the Ukrainians with weapons thanks to South Korea without having to use more of its artillery shells, which U.S. officials have admitted are soon running short.
In August, while Ukraine engaged in ferocious artillery battles with Russian troops, the stockpile of American 155mm artillery rounds had decreased to levels that worried the Pentagon; according to U.S. sources, the situation is now far worse.
South Korea's Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this month and agreed in principle to continue with the artillery contract.
A South Korean corporation is reportedly in discussions with the United States to add to that country's supply of 155mm artillery rounds, according to a statement from the Seoul Defense Ministry. According to the statement, the South Korean government's stance on not providing Ukraine with deadly weapons has not altered.
The statement said, "Discussions are based on the assumption that the United States would be the ultimate user."
Recent claims by the White House that North Korea was giving Russia artillery rounds created an uncommon situation where opposing troops in Europe might utilize weapons from the two Asian nations. The weapons agreements serve as a reminder of how far the industrial bases in the United States and Russia have been pushed during the conflict in Ukraine.
According to a Pentagon official, the United States has discussed the munitions with the South Korean industrial base.
According to Lt. Col. Marty Meiners, a spokesman for the Defense Department, any potential sales or transfers of equipment are "always closely evaluated against current and future U.S. and ROK military readiness requirements on the peninsula" and "will not detract from our defensive posture or readiness to respond against regional threats."
The Defense Department has not previously publicized or recognized the transfer of American artillery rounds from depots in South Korea that the United States made earlier this month.
Col. Isaac Taylor, a spokesman for the U.S. command in South Korea, said in a statement on the earlier shipment that "United States Forces Korea has been asked to help this endeavor by sending some of its equipment."
“This has no impact on our activities or our capacity to carry out our unwavering commitment to defend our partner, the Republic of Korea.”
Even as tensions with North Korea rise, according to U.S. officials, South Korea's donation of its artillery to Ukraine won't jeopardize military preparedness. Military analysts claim that South Korea has a variety of weaponry, including its rocket force, to counter the danger, despite North Korea's massive stocks of artillery ammo.
"South Korea may have choices to deliver armaments to Europe and other countries," said S. Paul Choi, a security analyst at the nonpartisan think tank Rand Corp. "Along with its wide military modernization and defense sector capabilities, South Korea's missile force is expanding."
Poland has inked contracts with South Korea totaling $5.8 billion to acquire tanks, howitzers, and rocket launchers. These will enable Warsaw to deliver weapons to Ukraine more easily and without putting itself in danger.
The Biden administration has claimed that Russia has resorted to North Korea for artillery rounds, which are being transferred through indirect channels, including supplies via tertiary nations in the Middle East and North Africa.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said that while there have been hints for a while that Russia has sought artillery rounds from North Korea, the government now has knowledge indicating shipments have been made.
The amount of artillery ammunition is "considerable," Mr. Kirby informed the press. "We're currently monitoring this to make sure the goods were really delivered."
North Korea has denied that it is supplying the bombs.
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, issued a warning last month that if South Korea sent arms and ammunition to Ukraine, it would sever ties with Moscow.
Ukraine has received medical aid, helmets, and protective vests from South Korea, but no deadly weapons.
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea said last month that his country wanted to have good ties with Russia and stated, "We have supplied humanitarian and nonviolent support to Ukraine in solidarity with the international community, but never fatal weaponry or any such thing."
In recent weeks, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased as a result of North Korea's aggressive missile testing and the extension of a joint air drill between South Korea and the United States involving 240 aircraft.
Mr. Austin and his South Korean counterpart announced that their nations will resume sizable field exercises in 2019 at a news conference earlier this month.