Russian FM on Korean peninsula: ‘knots of conflict’ in 2024

An apparent warning comes amid escalating tensions between Moscow and Seoul.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
2023.12.28
Seoul, South Korea
Russian FM on Korean peninsula: ‘knots of conflict’ in 2024 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks to the media after a meeting with his Albanian counterpart Besnik Mustafaj in Moscow April 12, 2006.
Alexander Natruskin/Reuters

Russia’s foreign minister issued an apparent warning to South Korea, following Seoul’s imposition of additional trade restrictions on Moscow intended to curb its expansionist ambitions in Ukraine.

In an interview with Russia’s state-run TASS news agency Thursday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov called the Korean peninsula, along with Africa and Afghanistan “knots of conflict” next year.

“It can be said that at a time when the West is holding onto elusive dominance, no one is safe from its geopolitical intrigues,” Lavrov said, adding that crises may take place unless the West accepts the “realities of a multipolar world.”

Lavrov’s comments come amid rapidly deteriorating ties between Seoul and Moscow, as South Korea decided to join the U.S.-led trade restrictions on Russia in response to its aggression against Ukraine.

Most recently, South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy on Tuesday announced an administrative revision, including the addition of 682 items to its list of products requiring special export permits, as part of a coordinated international effort to control exports to Russia.

With these additions, the total number of items subject to special export permits to Russia will increase to 1,159. The items added, which are deemed to have significant potential for military use, included construction heavy equipment, secondary batteries, machine tools, and aircraft components.

In response to Seoul’s new measures, Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday called Seoul’s action an “unfriendly move in compliance with the United States’ demands.”

The spokesperson then warned about potential retaliatory measures, emphasizing that Russia has every right to respond. 

Russia’s responses “may not be symmetrical, and we hope South Korea will not find themselves surprised by them later,” she said.

Following Russia’s warning of possible asymmetrical measures, a South Korean foreign ministry official told reporters during a back briefing in Seoul that Russia needed to play its part for the management of South Korea-Russia relations.

“Prior to announcing the export control measures against Russia, we had already explained the situation to the Russian side,” the official added.

The escalating diplomatic tensions between the two nations are already spilling over into the military realm.

On Dec. 14, four Russian military aircraft, along with two Chinese, entered South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, off its eastern coast without prior notification.

ADIZ is an arbitrary line established to enable the early identification and response to military aircraft approaching national airspace.

Typically, it is an international practice for military aircraft to submit their flight plans in advance and notify the respective country of their entry points when entering another nation’s ADIZ. However, Russia and China did not notify South Korea prior to their entry into the zone, according to the South’s defense ministry.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.

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