South Koreans are watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine with growing concern, amid fears of the economic fallout and North Korea ’s future course of action, as presidential hopefuls seek to take advantage of the crisis ahead of next month’s election. Although the conflict is happening on the other side of the globe, online chat rooms in South Korea have been abuzz with users debating the implications of a large despotic power posing an existential threat to a smaller neighbour. “We have [in North Korea] one of the world’s most warlike countries in the world as our neighbour,” said Stephen Park, a 37-year-old office worker, who said the images of explosions and panicky people trying to flee coming out of Ukraine had made him “a little bit scared”. “I know a war on the Korean peninsula is a remote possibility but I am afraid Kim Jong-un might imitate Putin and do something provocative down the road”, he said. Park’s fears have been echoed online, especially after North Korea fired a rocket with ballistic missile capability on Sunday – its first launch since January following a pause while close ally China hosted the Winter Olympics. Pyongyang described Sunday’s launch as an “important” test for a reconnaissance satellite , but the US and others have accused Pyongyang of using its space programme as a cover to bolster ballistic-missile development. “Usually, a crisis presents an opportunity for Kim,” Soo Kim, a policy analyst with the US-based Rand Corporation think tank who previously worked at the Central Intelligence Agency, told Bloomberg. “He knows it will be difficult for the US to give full attention to the North Korea issue right now – and this is an advantage for him.” South Korea eyes new missile shield to replace US system that angered China Imperialistic action Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University, said that the latest missile launch was to be expected as the North continued with its plan to modernise its weapons. Pyongyang has not directly reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Park said it was hesitant to do so, as Moscow is second only to Beijing on its list of allies. He noted, however, that “an imperialistic action” such as an invasion went against the North’s anti-imperialist principles. Online, South Koreans said Russia ’s invasion would make the denuclearisation of North Korea all the more difficult as Pyongyang takes note of what is happening to Ukraine, which gave up its own nuclear arsenal following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kim has shown no interest in the Biden administration’s call for him to return to nuclear disarmament talks, now stalled for about three years. So far the US has not budged to North Korea’s demands that it ease up on sanctions choking its economy. I don’t think we could have such an invasion by the North or China or Russia Choi Jong-gwon, South Korean merchant Others took heart from what they described as the South’s different geopolitical context. “I don’t think we could have such an invasion by the North or China or Russia,” said Choi Jong-gwon, a 65-year-old merchant. “South Korea is the world’s 10th largest economy and the world’s sixth most powerful military power. And we don’t share borders with either China or Russia.” A 68-year-old former government employee, who gave only his surname Yoon, said the presence of 28,000 American troops in the South would also act as a deterrent, as the US would automatically be involved in any war on the Korean peninsula – unlike in Ukraine, where US President Joe Biden has said he will not send troops. The conflict’s economic fallout was another issue being debated online, with some worrying that the conflict would further boost the already soaring price of oil – further agitating North Korea, which imports much of its crude. Ratings booster? In the run-up to South Korea’s presidential election on March 9, front-runners Yoon Suk-yeol of the main conservative opposition People Power Party and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling liberal Democratic Party – who are currently locked in a head-to-head race – have also sought to exploit the Ukraine crisis to boost their ratings. On Sunday, Yoon accused President Moon Jae-in ’s outgoing administration of “dragging its feet” in condemning Russia and not expressing enough willingness to participate in sanctions. Seoul has condemned the invasion and pledged to join international sanctions against Russia. “The people are anxious about the government that focuses only on appeasing the North rather than bolstering alliance [with the United States and Japan]”, he said. South Korea eyes new missile shield to replace US system that angered China In a televised debate late on Friday focused on domestic politics, North Korea and security, Yoon lambasted Moon’s policy of pursuing reconciliation and engagement with Pyongyang, dismissing it as a “flattering and submissive” policy that he compared with the West’s attempted appeasement of Adolf Hitler before the outbreak of World War II. “Sustainable peace can only be guaranteed by deterrence based on [military] power”, Yoon said. “What is happening in Ukraine shows that ink and paper alone cannot guarantee security and peace.” Referring to Moon’s attempts to induce Pyongyang back to the negotiating by pursuing a formal end to the Korean war, Yoon said: “Such a declaration would only create another Ukraine at a time when the North refuses to abandon nuclear weapons.” The Korean war ended in 1953 with a ceasefire, but no official peace treaty was ever signed. South Korea election: who’s running and what’s their China policy? Yoon’s rival Lee said South Korea should pursue a pragmatic diplomatic stance to maximise its national interests as it is caught between China, Russia and the US. He compared Ukrainian comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky to prosecutor-turned-presidential candidate Yoon, highlighting both their inexperience in politics. “A novice politician in Ukraine with six months’ experience angered Russia by vowing to join Nato, resulting in a war,” Lee said. “We must, of course, strongly condemn Russia’s invasion but this is a stark example that failed diplomacy brings about a war.” Lee’s remarks, which appeared to blame the Ukrainian president for Russia’s invasion, sparked uproar and criticism both at home and abroad. He was later forced to issue an apology. “If I caused misunderstandings among some Ukrainians and Koreans, differently from what I really meant to say, it was due to the shortage of my ability to express myself”, Lee wrote on Facebook on Saturday night, adding that he had condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine more loudly than any other candidate.