(CNN) -- North Korea launched four short-range missiles into the East Sea -- also known as the Sea of Japan -- the South Korean Defense Ministry said Thursday.
The missiles, which do not appear to have been sent toward South Korean waters, were fired toward Russia, fell into the sea and are considered a very low-level matter, the Pentagon said.
The missiles were fired just days after the start of annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States that North Korea opposes. The joint military exercises routinely spark tension between North Korea, South Korea and the United States.
For example, last year's exercises triggered weeks of heightened tensions between the nations and North Korean war threats, including an incident in May when the country fired up to six short-range missiles.
The South Korean and U.S. militaries have not been specific about where they are conducting their drills, and it was unclear if the missiles were fired in the direction of the exercises.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said it would provide more details at a news conference later.
Foreign policy experts say the North Korean missile firings may not herald a repeat of last year's saber rattling from Pyongyang, which included threats of preemptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea and the declaration that the armistice that stopped the Korean War in 1953 is null and void.
Last year, after North Korea tested a multistage rocket with possible intercontinental nuclear potential, followed by a third nuclear test, it was stung by fierce international criticism and sanctions. It reacted badly when 2013's joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. involved stealth bombers simulating bombing attacks.
The conditions of Thursday's missile launch are very different.
"It may be little more than regular military testing," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense and foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. "I'm not persuaded it's a big deal or even a medium big deal, though."
The launch may also be an attempt by North Korea to remind the world and its own people that it has muscle, too.
Most observers say North Korea is still years away from having the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead on a missile, but it does have plenty of conventional military firepower, including medium-range ballistic missiles that can carry high explosives for hundreds of miles.
"North Korea's missile launch is merely part of their ongoing efforts to demonstrate to the world, and more importantly to their own people, what they are capable of. It is more showmanship than meaningful geopolitics," David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy magazine, said Thursday. "It is not a surprise, and we should expect more of the same so long as this regime is in place."
Posted by Greg Palmer