Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 160

The South Korean side has, in any event, shown decidedly mixed feelings about the long-discussed submarine deal. According to one source, government leaders in Seoul have been considering the deal primarily as a means to improve relations with Russia. Those relations were left in tatters following a spy scandal between the two countries last July that resulted in a series of diplomatic expulsions. The problem for the South Korean government, however, is that South Korean military leaders reportedly do not want the Russian subs. They consider the Kilo class at least (the offer of Amur class subs by Moscow appears to be a more recent development) to be less advanced than diesel submarines already being built in South Korea by Daewoo. What they would prefer, according to reports, are European submarines and European submarine technology. South Korean defense officials would hope to use that technology to improve the quality of the submarines that South Korea builds at home (International Herald Tribune, May 24; UPI, May 20; Vremya MN, August 24).

All this may bode ill for Russia, which is looking to deal new weapons to South Korea both to extinguish its Soviet-era debts to Seoul and to gain a new foothold in the lucrative Asian arms market. Russia has already provided South Korea with US$450 million in armaments, including T-80U tanks, BMP-3 armored vehicles, antitank missiles, anti-aircraft systems, munitions, parts and civilian helicopters. Those deliveries too were made in partial repayment for the Russian debt to Seoul (AFP, AP, August 30).

Sergeev’s visit to South Korea comes at a time of transition, not only in Russia (with elections fast approaching), but also throughout Asia. Against the background of the recent conflict in the Balkans, Russia and China have each hardened their anti-American rhetoric in recent months while simultaneously taking steps to strengthen bilateral cooperation on a host of international issues. They have focused their ire in particular on U.S. ballistic missile defense plans and on U.S.-Japanese defense cooperation–and particularly talk of a theater missile defense system in Asia. That posture appears to have introduced a new, and negative, wildcard in Russia’s dealings with Japan. It is unclear how it will effect Moscow’s relations with South Korea, another key U.S. partner in Asia.