Europe

Kim Jong-un arrives in Russia for first ever talks with Vladimir Putin

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The talks, only confirmed at the last minute, will be the North Korean leader's first face-to-face meeting with another head of state since negotiations with US President Donald Trump collapsed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he was looking forward to his first talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he arrived in the country on Wednesday, seeking support in Pyongyang's nuclear deadlock with the United States.

Mr Kim's armoured train rolled into 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 honour guard and military band.

Kim Jong-un walks upon arrival at the railway station in the far-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok.
Kim Jong-un walks upon arrival at the railway station in the far-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok.
AFP

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," Mr 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.

Kim Jong-un at the welcoming ceremony.
Kim Jong-un at the welcoming ceremony.
AAP

"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.

Island venue

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 harbour used for commercial and naval ships.

Russia and North Korean flags are seen near Vladivostok station.
Russia and North Korean flags are seen near Vladivostok station.
AAP

Mr Kim plans to stay on in Vladivostok on Friday for a series of cultural events, including a ballet performance and a visit to the city's aquarium, Russian media reported.

The talks follow repeated invitations from Mr Putin since the North Korean leader embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.

Since March 2018, the formerly reclusive leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korea's Moon Jae-in, two with Mr 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.

A train believed to be carrying Kim Jong-un arrives in Vladivostok.
A train believed to be carrying Kim Jong-un arrives in Vladivostok.
AFP

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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet with the North Korean leader on Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet with the North Korean leader on Thursday.
Getty Images Europe

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 Mr 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.

Russian honor guards leave an official welcoming ceremony for the North Korean leader.
Russian honor guards leave an official welcoming ceremony for the North Korean leader.
AAP

Soon after his first election as Russian president, Mr Putin sought to normalise 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 Mr 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 MR Kim could be looking to balance Beijing's influence.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on 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," Mr 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.

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