[Editorial] Impending crisis
With Ukraine-Russia crisis intensifying, Korea needs to take proactive measures
Published : Feb 18, 2022 - 05:30
Updated : Feb 18, 2022 - 05:30
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is feared to have a negative impact on the South Korean economy, which has already been battered by a slew of negative factors sparked by COVID-19.

There was a glimmer of hope that a peaceful resolution might be possible, as Russia claimed it had withdrawn some of its troops near the border with Ukraine. On Thursday, however, the United States warned that Russia had also added about 7,000 troops, suggesting that it was premature to conclude that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would not take place.

The gloomy outlook regarding the Russia-Ukraine clash is sending intermittent shock waves throughout the world, especially to the financial and commodity markets, amid the prolonged disruptions of global supply chains due to the pandemic.

The US, Russia and other countries, including those in Europe, are entangled in the conflict over Ukraine. To avoid a war and prevent devastating consequences, the countries involved should find a peaceful path out of the complex geopolitical crisis. But Washington remains skeptical about Moscow’s sincerity about finding a peaceful resolution.

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does indeed materialize, it seems likely that global stock markets as well as energy prices would likely go through a wave of turbulences.

This worst-case scenario spells an extremely challenging period ahead for the Korean economy, which has a long way to go before returning to pre-pandemic health.

The Korean government is taking steps to prepare for the possible war in Ukraine. President Moon Jae-in presided over a meeting Monday to call for related state agencies to draw up countermeasures regarding energy and raw materials, as well as contingency plans should the domestic markets slip into a turmoil.

Short-term measures, however, may not be enough to cushion the potential impact from the conflict. Experts say that Korea should prepare for the possibility that the confrontation between Russia and the US over Ukraine may be extended for a longer period than widely expected.

If Russia continues to exercise saber-rattling near the border with Ukraine or move its military assets more aggressively, the US and Europe will respond accordingly, to defuse the tension. In this case, the Ukraine crisis may drag on, with the US and Europe churning out a series of diplomatic and military measures, as well as economic sanctions against Russia. This will steadily intensify the economic impact, destabilizing oil prices and dampening global trade -- a mix that would deal a blow to the Korean economy heavily dependent on its export and vulnerable to a sharp rise in energy prices.

Korean policymakers should devise more strategic measures to cope with a long-term conflict and its economic repercussions.

Another critical aspect to consider is the heightened international expectations about Korea’s role in relation to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. To block Russia from going for an aggression, the US is trying to draw more support from its allies. John Kirby, press secretary of US Pentagon, said in a briefing Monday that Korea should decide which military support it wants to offer, if the country wants to “assist Ukraine in a tangible way,” adding that the Ukrainians would welcome the move.

A dispatch of troops to Ukraine is not a realistic option for Korea, but given the stature of the nation in the international community and the potential impact of the conflict on its economy, it seems reasonable to consider offering nonmilitary support to help the allies’ efforts at deterrence in Ukraine.

The situation in and around Ukraine remains extremely unpredictable. The government should make sure that its diplomatic and economic measures minimize the potential impact of the crisis.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)