Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded South Korea for not directly supplying weapons to Ukraine, a gesture interpreted by observers as an olive branch aimed at mending ties with Seoul.

Amid soured relations between South Korea and Russia, the Russian leader’s remarks carry considerable weight, as they apparently indicate Moscow’s belief that diplomatic tensions with Seoul could potentially ease as long as certain boundaries are respected.

“Just like in our relations with Italy, we do not see any Russophobic stance when working with the South Korean government. Neither are there any weapons supplies to the conflict zone. We highly appreciate that,” Putin was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency, Thursday.

In mentioning the conflict zone, it appears that he was alluding to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Additionally, Putin acknowledged U.S. efforts to procure weapons from South Korea for Ukraine, emphasizing that he is closely monitoring the developments surrounding this matter.

The remarks were made during a meeting with representatives of international news agencies in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday (local time). It was a rare occasion for the Russian president to engage with foreign media, including those from nations designated as “unfriendly” by Russia.

Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the Korean Institute for National Unification, suggested that the expression of gratitude from Putin carries a subtle warning to Seoul against crossing certain boundaries.

“Putin’s appreciation for South Korea’s decision not to supply arms to Ukraine suggests his expectations for Seoul to uphold this stance. In particular, his mention of ‘closely monitoring U.S. efforts to seek weapons from South Korea’ indicates his desire for South Korea to remain committed to refraining from arms provisions despite increasing pressure from the West,” Cho said.

“If South Korea commits to doing so, in return, Russia would refrain from providing North Korea with advanced military technologies that could pose threats to South Korea,” he added.

Military experts view that the supply of South Korean arms to Ukraine could significantly shift the dynamics of the ongoing conflict in a way that is unfavorable to Russia, while North Korea’s apparent supply of munitions to Russia has not significantly impacted the course of the war.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, Sept. 13, 2023. Reuters-Yonhap
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, Sept. 13, 2023. Reuters-Yonhap

Park Byong-hwan, director of the Institute for Eurasian Strategic Studies and former minister at the South Korean Embassy in Russia, suggested that Putin’s olive branch may have been influenced by President Yoon Suk Yeol’s earlier comments about fostering smooth relations with Russia.

In a press briefing held in May, Yoon conveyed his readiness to foster a harmonious relationship between South Korea and Russia by pursuing economic collaboration grounded in shared interests. He underscored Russia’s status as a longstanding partner in this endeavor.

“It is also noteworthy that Putin specifically mentioned the term ‘Russophobic,’ which he had not typically used when addressing relations with South Korea. This suggests that he is potentially aware of and concerned about the anti-Russia sentiment among South Korean people, as domestic public opinion can impact diplomatic relations,” Park said.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unavailable for immediate comment in response to The Korea Times’ inquiry about Putin’s remarks.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Russian leader expressed hopes that South Korea-Russia relations would not deteriorate and emphasized his interest in Korean Peninsula affairs and enhancing bilateral ties.

However, the near-term prospects for improving bilateral relations remains daunting, with Putin reaffirming his dedication to bolstering ties with Pyongyang.

“As for our relations with North Korea, our neighbors, we will foster them regardless of others’ opinions,” the Russian leader said.

According to the Kremlin, Putin is planning a reciprocal visit to North Korea following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia in September last year.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here