• World
  • Ukraine

Seoul Ships Arms to Poland as Ukraine Enlists Support From Asia

4 minute read

South Korea ranks near the bottom of major democracies contributing aid to Ukraine and near the top for weapons sales since war hit the country. That has put President Yoon Suk Yeol in a tough spot during a high-stakes visit to Europe.

Yoon was given a seat at the table at the NATO summit in Vilnius as the bloc seeks help from partners such as South Korea, Japan and Australia to aid Kyiv in beating back Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Read More: Why the NATO Summit Was Good for Ukraine

His next stop is Poland, the biggest buyer of South Korean weapons, where Yoon and dozens of executives from the country’s arms industry will hold talks on Thursday. Some of the companies will discuss reconstruction of Ukraine as Poland has turned into the world’s gateway to Ukraine.

South Korean government policy prohibits lethal aid to countries at war and Ukraine’s envoy to Seoul says it’s time for a change, adding there’s a lot in its arsenal that could help Kyiv.

“We would be glad to receive anti-aircraft and counter-battery radars, anti-drone systems, armored ambulances, military trucks, and communication systems,” said Dmytro Ponomarenko, Ukrainian ambassador to South Korea. The Ukrainian government believes South Korea “could do much to make our victory closer.”

Read More: Inside Zelensky’s Plan to Beat Putin’s Propaganda in Russian-Occupied Ukraine

Full scale invasion of Ukraine has raised the stakes for countries such as South Korea and Japan that have relied on Russia for energy sources. It led to their leaders’ first visit to the NATO summit last year, while stoking worries about a possible invasion of Taiwan by China, which would put their security alliances with the US to a crucial test.

South Korea has sent humanitarian aid and promised additional assistance totaling $230 million to Ukraine, which includes demining equipment and emergency medical evacuation vehicles. That’s less than the amounts provided by countries with smaller economies such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden, according to data compiled through May 31 by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

Seoul has pledged to provide Ukraine with an increased level of humanitarian aid compared to last year, the presidential official told reporters ahead of Yoon’s trip to the NATO summit, without releasing specific amounts. The trip isn’t likely to significantly alter the size of the package, the office said.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has opened a door for South Korea’s economy. Its defense exports more than doubled last year as buyers replaced Soviet-era weaponry with more advanced arms. South Korea’s defense exports totaled about $17 billion in 2022, up from $7.25 billion a year before.

This will come into greater focus as Yoon during the visit in Poland, which accounted for more than 70% of South Korea’s weapons exports last year.

South Korea has found itself uniquely positioned in the global arms market with weapons that are relatively affordable and designed to defeat Soviet-based conventional systems used by its neighbor North Korea. Meanwhile, Washington seems to be giving the green light to Seoul to sell to states in places like eastern Europe as U.S. defense contractors race to fill orders for weapons that will go to Kyiv and Taipei, which is staring down threats from China.

Read More: Is China Providing Russia With Military Support? It’s Hard to Tell, and That’s the Point

In December, Poland received the first shipment of 28 K2 tanks and 48 self-propelled K9 howitzers that were part of a $5.77 billion agreement reached in August with South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem Co. and Hanwha Defense Systems Corp.

One of the most recent acquisitions from Poland has come from a $3.55 billion deal to supply it with Hanwha’s multiple-launch rocket systems Chunmoos. That’s on top of a $3 billion deal for 48 FA-50 fighter jets that will replace Soviet-era MiG aircrafts that Poland donated to Ukraine.

South Korea is ranked as the world’s ninth largest weapons exporter, according to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Yoon is aiming to take the country to number four by 2027.

Defense stocks of companies such as Hanwha Aerospace Co., Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. and LIG Nex1 Co. have skyrocketed since the war began in Ukraine in February 2022, outpacing gains in the South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index by 98%.

—With assistance from Akshay Chinchalkar and Natalia Ojewska.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com