North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was looking forward to his first talks with President Vladimir Putin as he arrived in Russia on Wednesday seeking support in Pyongyang’s nuclear deadlock with the United States.
Kim’s armored train rolled in to the Tsarist-era station in Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok, where the summit will take place on Thursday.
Wearing a long black coat and fedora, Kim stepped out onto a red carpet on the station platform before making his way outside to be received by an honor guard and military band.
His limousine drove off after the welcoming ceremony, bodyguards in suits running alongside.
The talks, only confirmed at the last minute, will be Kim’s first face-to-face meeting with another head of state since negotiations with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi collapsed in February.
“I hope this visit will be successful and useful,” Kim told Russian television in the border town of Khasan, where women in folk costumes welcomed him with bread and salt in a traditional greeting.
“I hope that during the talks… I will be able to have concrete discussions on resolving situations on the Korean Peninsula and on the development of our bilateral relationship,” Kim said.
Putin was due to arrive in Vladivostok on Thursday, then fly on after the talks for another summit in Beijing.
Russian and North Korean flags were flying on lamp posts on Vladivostok’s Russky island, where the summit is expected to take place at a university campus.
The island is connected to the rest of Vladivostok by a bridge built in 2012 that crosses a harbor used for commercial and naval ships.
Kim plans to stay on in Vladivostok on Friday for a series of cultural events, including a ballet and a visit to the city’s aquarium, Russian media reported.
The talks follow repeated invitations from Putin since Kim embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.
Since March 2018, the formerly reclusive North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, two with Trump and one with Vietnam’s president.
Analysts say he is now looking for wider international support in his standoff with Washington, while Moscow is keen to inject itself into another global flashpoint.
In Hanoi, the cash-strapped North demanded immediate relief from the sanctions imposed on it over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
But the talks broke down in disagreement over what Pyongyang was prepared to give up in return.
North Korea last week launched a blistering attack on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, insisting he be removed from the negotiations just hours after announcing it had carried out a new weapons test.
Moscow has already called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures — accusations Russia denies.
Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told a briefing on Tuesday: “The focus will be on a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula.
“Russia intends to help consolidate positive trends in every way,” he said, but added that no joint statement or signing of agreements was planned.
Cold War ties
Moscow was a crucial backer of Pyongyang for decades and their ties go back to the founding of North Korea, when the Soviet Union installed Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung as leader.
The Soviet Union reduced funding to the North as it began to seek reconciliation with Seoul in the 1980s, but Pyongyang was hit hard by its demise in 1991.
Soon after his first election as Russian president, Putin sought to normalize relations and met Kim Jong Il — the current leader’s father and predecessor — three times.
The first of those meetings was in Pyongyang in 2000, when Putin became the first Russian leader to visit the North.
China has since cemented its role as the isolated North’s most important ally, its largest trading partner and crucial fuel supplier, and analysts say Kim could be looking to balance Beijing’s influence.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that Beijing was happy to see talks between its “friendly neighbours”.
“We believe this will contribute… to peace and stability on the peninsula and in the region,” Geng said, noting that China and Russia “have always maintained close communication and coordination” on the issue.
While ties between Russia and North Korea have remained cordial, the last meeting between their leaders came in 2011, when Kim Jong Il told then-president Dmitry Medvedev that he was prepared to renounce nuclear testing.
His son has since overseen by far the country’s most powerful blast to date, and the launch of missiles capable of reaching the entire US mainland.