South Korea Protests Russia’s Defense Pact with North Korea

June 22, 2024 by No Comments

South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador on Friday to express its disapproval of the country’s new defense pact with North Korea. This action comes amid escalating tensions along the border, marked by vague threats and brief, seemingly accidental incursions by North Korean troops.

Earlier on Friday, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, issued a veiled threat of retaliation after South Korean activists launched balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border. South Korea’s military reported that it had fired warning shots the previous day to repel North Korean soldiers who briefly crossed the rivals’ land border for the third time this month.

These incidents occurred two days after Moscow and Pyongyang reached an agreement pledging mutual defense assistance if either is attacked, and a day after Seoul announced its consideration of providing arms to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong Kyun summoned Russian Ambassador Georgy Zinoviev to voice his concerns about the deal between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. He urged Moscow to immediately halt its alleged military cooperation with Pyongyang.

Kim, the South Korean diplomat, emphasized that any cooperation, directly or indirectly, aiding North Korea’s military buildup would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions and jeopardize South Korea’s security. He warned of potential consequences for Seoul’s relations with Moscow.

Zinoviev refuted the South Korean concerns, stating that any attempts to “threaten or blackmail” Russia were unacceptable. He asserted that his country’s agreement with North Korea was not targeted at specific third countries, according to a statement from Russia’s embassy on its X account. The South Korean ministry reported that Zinoviev promised to relay Seoul’s concerns to his superiors in Moscow.

The recent leafletting campaigns by South Korean civilian activists have reignited Cold War-style psychological warfare along the inter-Korean border.

Led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak, the South Korean civilian activists stated that they sent 20 balloons carrying 300,000 propaganda leaflets, 5,000 USB sticks with South Korean pop songs and TV dramas, and 3,000 U.S. dollar bills from the South Korean border town of Paju on Thursday night.

Analysts believe Pyongyang resents such material, fearing it could demoralize front-line troops and residents, ultimately weakening Kim Jong Un’s hold on power.

In a statement released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim Yo Jong, one of her brother’s top foreign policy officials, labeled the activists “defector scum” and issued what appeared to be a veiled threat of retaliation.

“When you do something you were clearly warned not to do, it’s only natural that you will find yourself dealing with something you didn’t have to,” she stated, without elaborating on North Korea’s specific actions.

Following previous leafletting by South Korean activists, North Korea launched more than 1,000 balloons that dropped tons of trash in South Korea, causing damage to roof tiles, windows, and other property. Kim Yo Jong previously hinted that balloons could become North Korea’s standard response to leafletting, suggesting that they would respond by “scattering dozens of times more rubbish than is being scattered on us.”

In retaliation, South Korea resumed anti-North Korea propaganda broadcasts using military loudspeakers installed at the border for the first time in years. In another state media statement, Kim Yo Jong warned that Seoul was “creating a prelude to a very dangerous situation.”

Tensions between the Koreas are at their highest point in years as Kim Jong Un accelerates his nuclear weapons and missile development and attempts to strengthen his regional influence by aligning with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a standoff against the U.S.-led West.

South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, is considering increasing support for Ukraine in response. Seoul has already provided humanitarian aid and other forms of assistance while joining U.S.-led economic sanctions against Moscow. However, it has refrained from directly providing arms, citing a longstanding policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.

Putin told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Thursday that supplying weapons to Ukraine would be “a very big mistake” and assured South Korea that it “shouldn’t worry” about the agreement if it is not planning aggression against Pyongyang.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry stated that Minister Cho Tae-yul held separate phone conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa on Friday to discuss the new pact. The diplomats agreed that the agreement poses a serious threat to peace and stability in the region and pledged to strengthen trilateral coordination to address the challenges presented by the alignment between Moscow and Pyongyang, according to a statement released by Cho’s ministry.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to criticism of Kim’s authoritarian rule and attempts to reach its people with foreign news and other media.

In 2015, when South Korea restarted loudspeaker broadcasts for the first time in 11 years, North Korea fired artillery rounds across the border, prompting South Korea to return fire, according to South Korean officials. No casualties were reported.

South Korea’s military revealed that there are signs that North Korea was installing its own speakers at the border, although they were not yet operational.

In the latest border incident, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that several soldiers engaged in unspecified construction work briefly crossed the military demarcation line separating the two countries at around 11 a.m. Thursday.

The South Korean military issued a warning and fired warning shots, after which the North Korean soldiers retreated. The joint chiefs did not immediately release further details, including the reason for the delay in releasing this information.

South Korea’s military believes recent border intrusions were unintentional, as the North Korean soldiers have not returned fire and have retreated after warning shots.

The South’s military has observed the North deploying large numbers of soldiers in frontline areas to construct suspected anti-tank barriers, reinforce roads, and plant mines, apparently in an effort to fortify their side of the border. Seoul believes these efforts are likely aimed at preventing North Korean civilians and soldiers from escaping to the South.