North Korea launches missile; Minister plans Russia visit
North Korea launched an apparent intermediate-range missile off its east coast on Sunday, intensifying regional tensions following its recent intercontinental ballistic missile launches and deployment of a military spy satellite.
The Japanese coast guard reported that the projectile, likely a ballistic missile, fell outside Japan's exclusive economic zone. This launch follows North Korea's announcement in November of successful tests of new solid-fuel engines for intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
South Korea's military confirmed that the missile was launched from near Pyongyang at around 2:55 p.m. local time (0555 GMT). South Korea, in coordination with the United States and Japan, is analyzing the missile's specifics.
Recent weeks have seen North Korea increase pressure on Seoul, labeling South Korea as its "principal enemy." Pyongyang has rejected any possibility of reunification with the South and has vowed to enhance its nuclear strike capabilities against the U.S. and its Pacific allies.
In December, North Korea tested its latest intercontinental ballistic missile, assessing its nuclear force's war readiness against what it termed escalating U.S. hostility. This test coincided with the launch of a real-time missile data-sharing system by Washington and its allies.
Additionally, North Korean soldiers have redeployed heavy weapons to the Demilitarized Zone along the North-South border. They have also restored guard posts previously demolished under a 2018 military accord, suspended by Seoul in protest of Pyongyang's spy satellite launch.
Amid these developments, North Korea's foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, is set to visit Russia. The trip, scheduled from Monday to Wednesday, comes at the invitation of Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, according to North Korea's KCNA news agency.
The United States and its allies have sharply criticized Russia for allegedly using North Korean missiles in Ukraine, with the U.S. denouncing it as abhorrent and South Korea labeling Ukraine a testing ground for Pyongyang's nuclear-capable missiles. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any arms deals but have expressed intentions to strengthen military relations.
In response, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on Thursday on three Russian entities and one individual. These sanctions are linked to the transfer and testing of North Korean ballistic missiles used by Russia in Ukraine.