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North Korea fires two short-range ballistic missiles as Kim visits Russia

North Korea tests an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), February 18, 2023 in Pyongyang's Sunan area. (File photo via CNN by KCNA)

North Korea has reportedly fired two short-range ballistic missiles as the country’s leader Kim Jong-un visits Russia to have a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

The South Korean military said on Wednesday its radars had detected "two short-range ballistic missiles fired by North Korea from the Sunan area towards the East Sea at around 11:43 to 11:53 today", referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.

"Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance in preparation for further launches while maintaining full readiness by closely cooperating with the US," the military added.

The Japanese coast guard also confirmed that two ballistic missiles were launched.

Japan's top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that the missiles "appear to have fallen outside Japan's exclusive economic zone but we are analyzing details".

Kim is in Russia with his top military officials and is set to meet President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for talks focused on defense cooperation.

According to media reports, Russia is aiming to purchase artillery shells from North Korea, while Pyongyang is looking for help in upgrading its Soviet-era military equipment, especially for its air force and navy.

"Fascinating: a launch without Kim Jong (-un) in the country. A first," US-based analyst Ankit Panda wrote on X.

"Starting in 2019, KJU stopped attending every single publicized launch (and sometimes his presence was deliberately obscured)," Pandit wrote. "There's precedent for launches without Kim, but not without Kim in-country."

North Korea has conducted a string of weapons tests so far this year, the last one involving two short-range ballistic missiles last month.

Also last month, North Korea failed to launch a space satellite into orbit in its second attempt.

South Korea and the United States have continued bolstering military cooperation, staging joint exercises as well as naval drills with Japan off the Korean peninsula.

Pyongyang views the joint military drills as a rehearsal for invasion, maintaining a strong military as a deterrence force.

Current relations between Pyongyang and Seoul are at their lowest point in years, and diplomacy is stalled after failed attempts to discuss the North's denuclearization.

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