The Samsung building is wreathed in smoke after a missile hit nearby, October 10, 2022. Photo: Twitter

SEOUL – The war in Ukraine took a shock step closer to South Korea today as Samsung’s office building in Kiev was damaged by an apparent Russian missile strike. The damage came amid what media are calling the heaviest missile barrage to hit Ukraine’s capital since Russian forces attempted to seize it in the war’s early phase.

Images circulating from Kiev on social media show the huge, glass-sheathed building, complete with the Samsung logo on top, surrounded by clouds of smoke and dust as the missile impacted. Subsequent footage shows the upper floors of the tower intact, but clear damage to the ground and median floors – and the sound of emergency sirens wailing.  

A Samsung official in Seoul told Asia Times that there were no casualties reported among Samsung staff, who, he said, occupy only three to four floors of the high-rise building, from where they conduct R&D and sales activities.

The official added that “from what we understand” the missile impacted approximately 150 meters from the building, rather than striking it directly. That raises the possibility that the building itself was collateral damage and not the target.

Some pro-Russian Tweeters have suggested a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile went awry and detonated in the city.

Samsung, though a privately-held company, is widely seen as South Korea’s corporate flagship, the leading firm of “Korea Inc.” And South Korea, like other regional members of the so-called “Global North” group of prosperous democracies – such as Japan and Australia – have sided with the West against Russia, following its February invasion.

A barrage of missiles has been impacting across Ukraine today. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Telegram post that energy facilities in Kiev, Lvov and four other cities have been hit.

“They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system,” Zelensky said. “Such a time and such targets were specially chosen to cause as much damage as possible.”

 Kiev’s leadership was calling for people to take shelter.

The missile salvos follow a high-profile strike that damaged the iconic Kerch Strait Bridge, which links the Crimean Peninsula to Russia proper. In the Saturday attack, one of the bridge’s two road spans was dropped and a fuel train caught fire on the rail span.

However, according to reports from Russia, the rail connection is already back in operation, as is part of the road link.  

Russian authorities say a truck explosion caused the damage, but a range of other theories, from a naval commando strike to a missile is being hotly debated. Angry Russian retaliation had been widely predicted.

Social media image shows emergency services on the scene and extensive damage to the Samsung building’s facade, Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2022. Image: Twitter

Unintended damage or deliberate strike?

While hits on communication nodes and energy facilities could feasibly be described as military targets, it is far from clear what was behind the strike against – or at least, close to – the Samsung building.

According to early, vernacular Korean reports, there was no military link between Samsung and Ukraine. But a Russian media outlet, Lidovka, alleged that military research was taking place at the center. Before the war, Ukraine was a key locale for software outsourcing for Europe and Israel.

Kiev is currently enjoying major successes with long-range, high-precision artillery supplied by the West. Though under-reported, the effectiveness of these munitions is largely due to their synchronization with the widespread satellite network operated by NATO and US commercial providers – a synchronization enabled by the mobile Internet connections enabled by Elon Musk’s Starlink system.

As previously reported by Asia Times, a key application used by the Ukrainian intelligence and artillery arms is “GIS Arta” (“Geographic Information System – Artillery”). The app coordinates real-time or near real-time target information from US and NATO intelligence feeds and drones, and converts the data into precise coordinates for gunners.

The system is reportedly a massive accelerant to target acquisition. Modeled on Uber’s software, GIS Arta works on the Android smartphone operating system.

Though Asia Times has no information about what might have been behind the strike, Samsung is the world’s leading provider of Android-based smartphones. Moreover, multiple tweets from the Ukrainian capital have dubbed the Samsung building an “R&D center.”

Follow this writer on Twitter at @ASalmonSeoul