North Korea attempts first flight test of new nuclear-capable cruise missile

 North Korea conducted the first flight test of a new cruise missile on Thursday, as North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un seeks to expand his military capabilities amid deepening rifts with South Korea and the United States.

According to the North's official Korean Central News Agency, the launch of the Pulhwasl-3-31 missile posed no threat to neighbors as it is still in its development stage. The outlet said the missile could eventually carry a nuclear warhead.

Tensions in the region have risen in recent months as Kim has been accelerating his weapons development and issuing provocative threats to the US and its Asian allies. In response, the United States, South Korea and Japan have continued their joint military exercises, which Kim condemns.

The reported single launch came a day after the North fired several cruise missiles into waters off its west coast. South Korea's military said it had detected the missiles and that they caused no damage.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Lee Sung Joon said flight data showed the missiles flew shorter distances than previous North Korean cruise missile launches. The cruise missile launch was North Korea's second known launch event of the year, after it launched its first solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile on January 14.

The launches are undoubtedly a show of force meant to put pressure on rivals, but they could also signal a problem within North Korea, according to Yang Uk, an analyst at Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Yang said North Korea is trying to show off its diverse arsenal of nuclear-capable weapons, but the display of new weapons systems comes amid a slowdown in tests of short-range ballistic missiles. This could indicate that North Korea is facing a depletion in its personal inventory because of the weapons it is reportedly sending to Russia, Yang said.

US and South Korean officials have accused North Korea of providing artillery shells, missiles and other supplies to Russia for the war in Ukraine. In return, North Korea is receiving much-needed economic aid and military technology.

Both Pyongyang and Moscow have officially denied that North Korea was sending weapons to Russia. US and Ukrainian intelligence have said that Russia is using North Korean weapons in Ukraine.

Kim met Russian President Putin at a Russian space launch center in September and the two are planning another meeting.

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