Seoul confirms talks are going on over an unspecified number of 155-millimetre artillery shells but says Washington would be the "end user" of the lethal weapons.

Ukraine was burning through as many as 7,000 rounds of ammunition a day, while Russia was firing as much as 20,000 rounds daily, US officials say.
Ukraine was burning through as many as 7,000 rounds of ammunition a day, while Russia was firing as much as 20,000 rounds daily, US officials say. (AP)

The US will buy 100,000 rounds of howitzer artillery from South Korean manufacturers to provide to Ukraine, a US official has said, in a deal the two governments have been working on for some time.

The agreement comes as Ukrainian leaders press for more weapons and aid to take advantage of a counteroffensive that is pushing Russian forces out of some areas they had taken over earlier in the conflict. And it relieves concerns within the US military — particularly the Army and the Marine Corps — who are worried that persistent transfers of the Pentagon's howitzer ammunition to Ukraine are eating into their stockpiles.

Other defence officials confirmed the broad outlines of the contract and said it would help with stockpile pressures, specifically involving the howitzer ammunition, which Ukrainian forces have been using at a high rate. 

South Korea's Defence Ministry in a statement acknowledged ongoing talks over exporting an unspecified number of 155-millimetre artillery shells to shore up diminishing US inventories. However, the ministry said the negotiations were proceeding under the presumption that the US would be the "end user" of those rounds and that Seoul maintains its principle of providing only non-lethal support to Ukraine.

Last week in a defence official briefing reporters said Ukraine was burning through as many as 7,000 rounds of ammunition a day, while Russia was firing as much as 20,000 rounds daily.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the deal had not been made public.

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Non-lethal supplies

Until now, South Korea had previously limited its support for Ukraine to non-lethal equipment and supplies. In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pressed South Korea to provide lethal arms after Russia’s attack on Mariupol. 

Seoul's Defence Ministry confirmed at the time that it had rejected the Ukrainian request for anti-aircraft weapons.

In a statement, Army Lieutenant Colonel Marty Meiners, Pentagon spokesperson, said the US government has been in discussions to buy ammunition from South Korea's non-government defence industrial base. The ammunition would not come from South Korean military stocks. He declined to provide details.

Meiners said any potential sales always take into account the South Korean military's readiness and requirements and "will not detract from our defensive posture or readiness to respond against regional threats." He added that South Korea's defence industry regularly sells military equipment and weapons systems to allies and partners, including the US.

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No scheduled time for deliveries

South Korea has also inked several recent arms deals with European countries eager to bolster their defences in the wake of Russia's assault on Ukraine, including almost $9 billion in multiple contracts with Poland to provide F-16 fighter jets, training aircraft, tanks and howitzers.

The ammunition deal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Meiners said he could not provide information on how quickly the ammunition could get to Ukraine. He said the Pentagon has regular conversations with South Korea and other allies around the world about how best to support Ukraine in the fighting.

The revelation of the agreement came as Russia said it was beginning to withdraw its forces from the key city of Kherson. Ukrainian officials acknowledged Moscow’s troops had no choice but to flee Kherson, yet they remained cautious, fearing an ambush.

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Source: AP