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12 Apr, 2023 19:35

Asian ally to loan artillery shells to US – media

South Korea has reportedly agreed to supply 500,000 rounds to help replenish US stockpiles amid the Ukraine conflict
Asian ally to loan artillery shells to US – media

South Korea has reportedly agreed to help ease Washington’s artillery supply shortfall, loaning 500,000 rounds of 155mm shells as the US ships out much of its own supplies to Ukraine.

The deal was signed last month and was structured as a loan, rather than a sale, to keep Seoul at arm’s length from providing military aid to Kiev amid its conflict with Russia, South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported on Wednesday. The report, which cited unidentified “multiple government sources,” added that the loan was equivalent to about half the number of artillery shells the US sent to Ukraine last year and five times the number that South Korea sold to Washington in December.

Citing its policy against providing lethal military aid in active conflict zones, the South Korean government insisted that the US be designated as the “end user” of the 100,000 shells sold to Washington last year. By lending the latest batch of rounds, rather than selling them, Seoul sees less risk of the munitions being given to Ukraine without South Korea’s consent, Dong-A Ilbo said.

The agreement came together with South Korea’s government feeling pressure to “produce results” for its larger ally ahead of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s planned state visit to Washington later this month. In a worst-case scenario, the newspaper said, Russia might take retaliatory measures against South Korean citizens and businesses, but the unprecedented rental deal would enable Seoul to appease Moscow by asking the US to return the shells.

“Indirect aid to Ukraine through loans is the best way to send a message to the international community that South Korea, as a responsible member of the international community, is not just sitting by the war – without provoking Russia,” one of the government’s sources told Dong-A Ilbo.

President Joe Biden’s administration began asking South Korea for more artillery rounds in February, according to the report. Considering the US-South Korean relationship, Seoul couldn’t ignore the US’ request. “It was not a situation where we could stick to our position” of refusing lethal aid to Kiev, another government official said.

NATO has warned that Ukraine is burning through ammunition at a rate “many times higher” than the pace at which the Western military bloc can produce new shells.

A trove of leaked Pentagon documents earlier this month suggested that the US was spying on South Korea and had concluded that its ally was reluctant to sell munitions that might end up in Ukraine. An official in Yoon’s office told Reuters on Sunday that his administration would hold talks with Washington on the “issues raised” by the purported leak.