According to The Seoul Economic Daily, "North Korea deliberately detonated a missile during its failed test as the rocket was accidentally heading towards Russia." On April 29, 2017, North Korea's failed missile that was headed towards Russia was detonated, prompting Vladimir Putin to put his country on high alert. The Daily reported, "That the KN-17 weapon traveled 48 kilometers before officials exploded it after fears it was fired at Russia by accident."
Pyongyang's test-firing of a ballistic weapon comes in spite of warnings from the United States that the failure to restrain its nuclear trials could lead to serious and "catastrophic consequences." Given the April 27th tests, how will the US respond? There has been a war of words between Pyongyang and Washington for the last few months. Will the latest tests by North Korea herald a change of policy in the White House or will it continue to exchange of heated warnings?
Let us take a look at the developments, thus far.
"If the ballistic missile that flew to the north eastern region had not failed, it would have been heading to a harbor point or a Russian territory," the Daily said. The missile had travelled 30 miles before crashing down on an inland part inside the country. However, there are claims that Kim Jong-un's officials had "deliberately exploded the KN-17 device" after realizing that it had been accidentally directed towards Russia.
Relying on the reports from the Daily, the international media reported that the ballistic missile would have struck "a harbor point or a Russian territory" if it had not failed. "It is for this reason that North Korea intentionally destroyed the missile."
A source in the original news report, which is in Korean language, is quoted as saying the launch target was "different from the previous direction" and that "in the past, we fired 89-90 degrees to the east, and the projectile fell off the East Sea. But the angle of this shot was 49 degrees." North Korea had fired a similar type of missile April 16, 2017, just a day after the massive military parade on the "Day of the Sun" where it showed off its expanding missile arsenal.
In the wake of the launch, Russia's Chairman of Defense and Security, Victor Ozerov, reportedly said its air defenses in its eastern territories had been put on high alert. In his own words, "The air defense of the Russian Federation in the Far East has been put on high alert. We control the airspace in the zone of responsibility of the Russian air forces."
It comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops and equipment to its border with North Korea. Images showing Putin reinforcing his 11-mile border with North Korea by relocating troops and equipment emerged.
The troop deployment by the Russian officials can be seen as an imitation of Chinese attempts at securing the borders. China had sent 150,000 soldiers to its southern frontier to deal with the fears of fleeing North Koreans across the border, in case of a war. Similarly, Putin fears a huge refugee exodus from North Korean in case of American military action against Pyongyang. The US President Donald Trump has already warned North Korea saying, "We'll see" if military action is needed.
In this context, we see that tensions between Pyongyang and Washington remain high. Amid fears of North Korea planning a sixth nuclear weapon, American bombers flew training drills with the South Korean and Japanese air forces, as a deterrent to North Korea's nuclear program.
Responding to American bombers in South Korea, North Korea on May 3, 2017, accused the US of "pushing the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war." However, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said on May 1, 2017, that the joint drill was conducted to deter provocations by the North.
In the meantime, the US military's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system has reached initial operational capacity in South Korea. China has objected to the use of this system, which can reach inside Chinese territory, given its powerful radar.
In an interview with Reuters on April 27, 2017, Trump had warned of a possible "major, major conflict" with North Korea. A worried China has expressed its concerns saying that the situation in the Korean peninsula has the potential escalate or slip out of control.
As the world look at the growing tensions between the two countries, it is crucial for both nations to show caution towards military aggressiveness and deter from any action that can take a toll on human life across the borders. With an anxious China and now Russia, the situation looks grim. But the larger question that remains is, will this trigger a nuclear war?