(Bloomberg) -- The US and South Korea started one of their largest annual joint military drills in a move certain to raise tempers in North Korea, which began the year by threatening to destroy its neighbor to the south.

The Freedom Shield exercises that run from Monday through March 14 include training on land, sea and in the air with an emphasis on countering nuclear operations, US Forces Korea said. These are also the first large-scale joint exercises since political acrimony led to the two Koreas scrapping a 2018 agreement designed to reduce tensions on their heavily armed border. 

The US may be looking to dispatch an aircraft carrier group and strategic bombers to take part in the exercises, Yonhap News and other South Korean media reported. Kim Jong Un’s regime has bristled for years at the deployment to the region of US assets capable of nuclear strikes, and in October Pyongyang threatened to use its most powerful weapons when the US sent a carrier group to South Korea.

Read more: Kim Jong Un Says He Has Lawful Right to Destroy South Korea

North Korea has a tendency to time provocations to coincide with joint drills, and Freedom Shield comes after Kim said last month he has the legal right to annihilate South Korea. He started the year by eliminating the concept of peaceful unification from his state’s national policy and holding artillery drills off a South Korean island near a nautical border that has been the scene of deadly conflicts in the past.

This has led to some speculation that Kim has turned the corner on his bellicose outbursts and is readying for battle. US President Joe Biden has warned Kim that it would mean the end of his regime if he tried to launch a nuclear attack.

The government of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said it believes North Korea will be trying to raise its profile ahead of April elections for parliament. Yoon’s conservative People Power Party, which backs military cooperation with the US and a tough stance toward Pyongyang, is trying to wrest control of the body from the opposition Democratic Party, which favors rapprochement with North Korea.

In December, a spokesman for North Korea’s Defense Ministry slammed the large-scale military exercises as “an open declaration on nuclear confrontation to make the use of nuclear weapons against the DPRK a fait accompli,” the state’s Korean Central News Agency reported, referring to North Korea by its formal name.

“The armed forces of the DPRK will thoroughly neutralize the US and its vassal forces’ attempt to ignite a nuclear war,” KCNA quoted the spokesman it did not name as saying.

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Kim has shown no inclination that he wants to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks and has rolled out a series of new weapons designed to deliver nuclear strikes on the US and its allies in Asia. The US, South Korea and Japan have accused him of sending munitions to Russia to help in its war in Ukraine in return for aid that helps North Korea’s economy and military.

--With assistance from Shinhye Kang.

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