Korean experience for the war in Ukraine?


Ever since the American journalist David Ignatius suggested that it is worth turning to the experience of the Korean War of 1950-1953 in order to end the war in Ukraine, many people also started to consider it. The reason for this is because in the situation where there are objectively no conditions for concluding agreements between the conflicting parties, it would be quite reasonable to try and find similar precedents in history. In this sense, the way how the parties emerged from the Korean War undoubtedly deserves attention.

Broadly speaking, it is possible to find several interesting analogies in that war. After the surrender of Japan in August 1945, its former colony of Korea was divided by the victors – the USSR and the USA into two parts along the 38th parallel. This was seen as a temporary solution, similarly to how Germany was divided into zones of occupation. However, after this, relations between the USA and the USSR deteriorated.

In August 1947, the Republic of Korea with Seoul as its capital was proclaimed in the southern part of the country, and in September 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea with its capital in Pyongyang was established. In the north, Kim Il-sung, a former emigrant to the USSR, became the leader, while in the south it was Syngman Rhee, a former emigrant to the United States. The Northerners were supported in Moscow, the Southerners – in Washington. Without delving into deep details of the internal Korean contradictions of that period, this point in history can be considered as the beginning of the confrontation between the great powers, which would then lead to the Cold War.

Even though both new Korean states disagreed with the division of the country, each of them depended on the position of their patrons in the USSR and the USA. It is believed that eventually Kim Il Sung was able to convince Joseph Stalin that he would be able to quickly capture South Korea. He claimed that there were many of those who sympathized with communist ideas in the South and they would support the invasion of the Northerners.

Stalin hesitated about it for a long time. But in December 1949, in China, local communists finally defeated the troops of the Kuomintang government, the remnants of whose army fled to Taiwan. It was important to notice that the Americans did not interfere in the course of the civil war in China. In addition, in August 1949, the USSR conducted the first test of an atomic bomb, thereby depriving the United States of a monopoly on this weapon. Naturally, these factors made Stalin think that the Americans would also not interfere this time, and the atomic bomb gave him the opportunity to feel more confident.

However, the most important element of the plan was the blitzkrieg tactic. The element of surprise, along with the advantage in offensive weapons, especially the T-34-85 tanks, were supposed to ensure success at the initial stage of the war. The capture of South Korea had to be fast, so that the United States would not have time to intervene. Stalin reasonably believed that in a democratic society it is very difficult to quickly make a decision about war, especially for a small country somewhere in Asia.

The North Korean army had 175 thousand fighters, 250 T-34 tanks, 1600 guns, 172 combat aircraft (Il-2 and Yak-9). It was trained by Soviet and Chinese specialists. South Korea's army consisted of 93 thousand people, 840 guns and mortars, 25 fighters (Mustang) and 27 armored vehicles. But still, the main advantage of North Korea was the suddenness of the attack.

According to the version of events that was adopted in the USSR and the DPRK, on June 25, 1950, Syngman Rhee’s army "treacherously" attacked North Korea. In response, the DPRK army immediately launched a counterattack and defeated the Southerners. In reality, on June 25, the DPRK troops caught the South Korean army by surprise with a sudden strike. Shortly after, on June 28, Seoul was captured, although the South Korean authorities were able to leave the city while it was being occupied. By August, the North Koreans captured almost the entire territory of Korea, with the exception of the port of Busan in the south of the country and its nearby territory.

On June 25, the UN Security Council was assembled, on which a resolution condemning the aggression of North Korea proposed by the Americans was passed. The Soviet delegation, however, boycotted the meeting. On July 7, 1950, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on the creation of armed forces under the auspices of this organization. As a result, a coalition under the UN flag in order to protect South Korea was gathered. Yet, it still remains a mystery why the USSR did not use the right to veto at that time.

In September 1950, the US Army launched an attack on the positions of the North Koreans from the Busan bridgehead. At the same time, landing forces were dispatched in Incheon, near the current Seoul International Airport. The DPRK army was defeated and chaotically retreated to the Chinese border. In November, American and South Korean troops were able to almost reach that border.

At that point in time, the USSR decided to try to save the situation. An aviation corps was deployed on the territory of China, which immediately engaged in direct combat clashes with American aircrafts, providing air cover for North Korean troops. At the same time, the so-called Chinese volunteers entered the war. Neither the USSR nor China officially recognized their participation in the war. Nevertheless, almost half a million Chinese soldiers attacked the UN troops and by January 25, 1951, pushed them back to the south. The control of Seoul was constantly passing from one side to another, until at the end of March it remained with the Southerners.

As a result, by May 1951, the front line had almost stabilized along the 38th parallel. The Americans and South Koreans lacked infantry units to defeat the combined forces of North Koreans and Chinese volunteers. At the same time, Soviet aviation did not allow the Americans to realize their superiority in the air. Yet, the Northerners and the Chinese lacked equipment and weapons.

Both of the sides were exhausted. Nevertheless, some small-scale encounters along the front line with a tendency to their attenuation continued for two more years. Nevertheless, the front line had hardly changed. Only Soviet and American aviation fought in the air, in which both sides suffered quite heavy losses.

On March 5, 1953, Joseph Stalin died and the new authorities decided to end the war. After that, attempts to find a peaceful solution begin. On July 27, 1953, a ceasefire agreement was signed. It is worth noting that there were those on both sides of the conflict who were against it.

For instance, South Korean President Syngman Rhee opposed the ceasefire agreement. Incidentally, the South Korean representative refused to sign the agreement during the negotiation, and an American general did it for him instead. South Korea's position was based on the fact that it was a victim of aggression and demanded the continuation of the war. North Korea did not object to the signing of the treaty, but demanded more clarity on Korean issues. China, which lost about a million soldiers, was also hoping for greater consideration of its interests.

Still, both the USA and the USSR were tired of this war, as it required enormous resources from them. Thus, they started to put pressure on their allies in this war and forced them to comply with the ceasefire agreement. However, the peace treaty itself was never signed.

Generally speaking, the experience of the Korean War is very curious from the point of view of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It is clear that the sides of this conflict are not ready for any agreements, their positions on fundamental issues are too different. From the point of view of Ukraine, there can be no question of any analogue of the Minsk agreements of 2015, which is called Minsk-3. Today Kiev demands, at a minimum, to return all its territories that were captured after February 24, 2022. At the same time, as a maximum, statements about the readiness to fight for the return of Crimea and Donbass are already appearing.

It is clear that Russia is not ready to consider the return of all the territories mentioned above. Moreover, they would like to receive recognition, at least, of the rights to Crimea and Donbass from Ukraine and the international community, and at most, to retain all the territories that they have occupied to date. In addition, Moscow has other conditions, including the non-bloc status of Ukraine and some others.

In any case, it is highly unlikely that Russia and Ukraine will compromise, at least not right now. Moreover, the authorities of each country should take into account the situation within the countries. In Ukraine, according to polls, society is not ready to accept territorial losses: it is ready to fight. There is no doubt that Ukrainian people will not support agreements with Russia on its terms.

In turn, in Russia, after all the very loud statements made, expectations from this war are very high. Some hope for the restoration of the former power in the form of the USSR or the Russian Empire. Someone believes that the war should be carried on until the victory over Ukraine, in order to change its authorities to more friendly ones, but to avoid absorbing it. In any case, the mood is very militant. Naturally, the agreements with Ukraine will be negatively perceived by the patriotic part of society, which expects, at least, victory over Ukraine, and at most, the restoration of the USSR.

Yet it is also obvious that the resources of the parties are also not limitless. Despite the full support of Ukraine from Western countries, many Western politicians would obviously like to overcome the height of the conflict. Because if we talk about the long-term confrontation between the West and Russia, then all the sanctions already adopted are fully consistent with the goals and objectives of the new Cold War. They will continue to exhaust the Russian economy for a very long time. This will continue even if some of the sanctions are lifted during negotiations with Russia after the end of the military stage. In this regard, there is no special need for the West to continue this war.

For Russia, the continuation of the war clearly no longer makes much sense. There was no quick success, and in a positional war, its military resources are gradually being reduced. It is clear that under the conditions of sanctions, there are less and less opportunities for their replenishment. For this, there are no production facilities and many critical components that were received from the West. At the same time, the Ukrainian army is constantly being reinforced with high-tech Western-made weapons, which already affected the course of war.

Theoretically, Russia can still mobilize, but in that case, it will be possible to talk about the format of the Second World War, although without tanks and aircraft. In the current model of military operations, the Russian army cannot use tank breakthroughs and does not have the opportunity to realize its initial advantage in aviation. As a result, in case of mobilization, a lot of infantry and artillery will be received, but there will be clearly not enough modern drones, anti-battery radars, guided missile weapons.

At the same time, during the months of the war, Ukraine noticeably strengthened all of its military capabilities. Given the high level of motivation of the army and society, this makes Ukraine a very serious adversary for Russia. It is clear that the Ukrainian army is preparing for an attack in order to return its territories. It has no shortage of motivated soldiers, and now there are modern weapons, albeit in smaller numbers than would be preferred, but nevertheless.

However, there is one crucial moment – Ukraine's dependence on supplies of ammunition from Western countries. If the worst comes to the worst, the latter can always regulate these supplies in case they suddenly have such a need. Naturally, this may affect the further development of events. For example, if the supply of ammunition suddenly becomes limited. It is clear that the West will not leave Ukraine defenseless before the Russian offensive, but it can somewhat hold back their offensive impulse and still incline, if not to negotiations, then to freezing the conflict.

Therefore, taking into account the obvious impossibility of reaching an agreement as of today, it can be assumed that at the moment it is quite likely that a somewhat similar to Korean War version will be used in the conflict over Ukraine. To put it bluntly, the war is slowing down. For example, Russia is gradually reducing the pace of offensive operations until they cease.

For public perception, this can be explained as an act of goodwill of Russia, as it has already been in the last few months. In addition, Russia, in one way or another, will still leave the right bank of the Dnieper, leaving Kherson. Of course, this will be very painful for Russian public appearance, but again, the thesis of goodwill should help. Why is it important for Russians to go beyond the Dnieper? Because from a military standpoint, it will be challenging for Ukrainians to force confrontations near this river, thus it will be easier for the Russian army to defend itself.

At the same time, returning Kherson would be a great victory for Ukrainians. But to go further beyond the river, they can say that they need more weapons and ammunition. This is a good argument that can explain why the counterattack has stopped.

After that, the main front line will pass through the Zaporozhye region. Here, Russian troops will switch to the defense and hold it with their available forces, without mobilization. As a result, the front line can stabilize. Of course, the Ukrainian army will try to strike, but the Russian army is likely to hold its positions. After all, it is somewhat easier to defend than to attack. In addition, Ukraine does not have enough heavy weapons to break through the fortified defense. In addition, the same ammunition will be enough to put pressure on the Russian army, but not enough to organize a large-scale attack. So, the military situation will gradually come to a standstill.

In the case of such a scenario, the parties will continue to trade blows for some time. But the scale of bombings of Ukrainian settlements by Russian troops will gradually decrease. Already, fewer and fewer strikes are being carried out deep into the territory of Ukraine. This is attributed either to the depletion of the stock of Russian missiles, or to the improvement of the quality of Ukrainian air defense.

It can be assumed that there will be fewer attacks and clashes over time, and then we will talk about freezing the conflict. In Korea, this period took two years. Then, after a while, an influential mediator will appear with a proposal to sign a ceasefire agreement. In 1953, it was India. Now it may be Turkey or someone else. With this option, in fact, a peace treaty is not needed. For example, there is still no such between North and South Korea.

Eventually, it will be possible to negotiate, first of all, between Russia and the West on various conditions and agreements. For example, Russia may offer the West to exchange the lifting of some sanctions for some concessions on its part. They can be of a very different nature. In any case, it would be a long process.

At the same time, for Ukraine, with all the disadvantages of dragging the conflict associated with the loss of territories, colossal destruction of infrastructure and human losses, definite opportunities are bound to present themselves. Just look at South Korea. In the absence of a peace treaty, in the presence of a large grouping of the North Korean army right outside the capital, nevertheless, South Korea today is an industrially developed country. Even though Syngman Rhee in 1953 was against signing a ceasefire agreement and freezing the conflict.

Meanwhile, most recently, in July 2022, Poland signed an agreement to purchase 1,000 K2 tanks, three squadrons of FA-50 fighters and 600 K9 howitzers from South Korea. When the ceasefire agreement was signed 70 years ago, South Korea was a poor agricultural country.

Therefore, there is no doubt that this can be a very attractive guideline for Ukraine in the medium term. Thus, it is always possible to extract one or another illustrative example or precedent from history, especially when the situation with a particular conflict comes to a standstill.

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