VLADIVOSTOK — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un crossed the border into Russia on Wednesday for a first summit with Vladimir Putin, as Pyongyang seeks closer ties with its traditional ally amid a nuclear deadlock with the United States.
The meeting on Thursday in the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok will be Kim's first face-to-face talks with another head of state since his talks with US President Donald Trump in Hà Nội collapsed in February.
Earlier, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported his departure by train, naming among his entourage foreign minister Ri Yong-ho - who told journalists after the summit in Việt Nam that the country's stance would "never change".
Kim's private armoured train arrived on Wednesday in the Russian border town of Khasan, Russian media reports said, where he was welcomed with bread and salt in a traditional gesture.
Russian and North Korean flags were already flying on lamp posts on Tuesday on Vladivostok's Russky island, where the summit is expected to take place at a university campus.
The talks follow repeated invitations from Putin since Kim embarked on his diplomatic overtures last year.
Since March 2018, the North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with the South's Moon Jae-in, two with Trump and one with Việt Nam's president.
Analysts say he is now looking for wider international support in his standoff with Washington.
At the same time, Western diplomats say that with Moscow's global role a shadow of what it once was, Russian foreign policy is driven by the "search for relevance".
In Hà Nội, the 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.
Cold War ties
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.
KCNA did not mention whether Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju or his sister and close aide Kim Yo Jong were accompanying him. — AFP