S. Korea under tacit pressure to join U.S.-led sanctions drive against Russia

March 21, 2014

(Yonhap) — South Korea appears to be inching toward a moment of decision on whether and how to help its main ally, the United States, locked in a war of sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. government on Thursday made it clear that punishing Russia is not a matter only for Washington and the European Union.

“We’re engaging very broadly with the international community beyond Europe about our concerns about the violation of international law here, and we continue to encourage countries to join us in that effort,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said at a press briefing.

She was answering a question about what the U.S. expects South Korea and other Asian allies to do with regard to sanctions against Moscow.

Psaki’s remarks came shortly after the Obama administration announced the expansion of its sanctions against Russia, which targets close aides to President Vladimir Putin.

In a tit-for-tat action, Moscow banned nine U.S. officials from entering Russia, including House Speaker John Boehner and three senior White House officials.

In Seoul, South Korea’s foreign ministry maintained a prudent approach towards imposing its own sanctions on Moscow.

“Nothing has been decided,” ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters Thursday (local time). “As far as I know, there has been no request (from the U.S. to join its move).”

Diplomatic sources here said South Korea is facing tacit pressure, however.

“By diplomatic practice, the U.S. would not formally request South Korea to take any specific action. But you can read the U.S. message from the State Department spokesperson’s wording,” a source privy to the matter said.

As a responsible member of the international community and in consideration of ties with the U.S., South Korea will have to make an appropriate choice before too long, added the source.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, Seoul’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying the country would not recognize Russia’s annexation of the breakaway province of Crimea.