North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in Russia on a special train yesterday as Pyongyang tries to reach out to regional powers and seek economic aid.
In his first public visit to Russia in nearly a decade, Kim is to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and will spend time in the country’s Far East and Siberia, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russia is a member of the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, though China now holds more influence with North Korea than Russia does.
Kim made his last public visit to Russia in 2002, when he met then-Russian president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok. He has visited China, Pyongyang’s closest big-power ally, three times in just over a year.
Kim arrived in the town of Khasan, near the short border between North Korea and Russia, and was greeted by the Primorye region governor and Medvedev’s representative in the Russian Far East, a regional government source said.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing a South Korean government source, said Kim would likely hold talks with Medvedev in Ulan-Ude, hundreds of kilometers further west near Lake Baikal in Siberia.
“We understand Chairman Kim’s special train arrived at Khasan Station at about 10am after crossing the border between North Korea and Russia and that a welcoming ceremony is happening there,” Yonhap quoted the source as saying.
The Kremlin statement confirmed Kim was arriving yesterday and said he would spend time in the Far East and Siberia.
“The main event of the visit will be President Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting with Kim Jong-il,” it said.
Yonhap said Kim was expected to stay in Russia for a week.
The visit follows a series of top-level meetings between Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington and Beijing that has raised hopes of a resumption of long-stalled talks on disabling the secretive North’s nuclear weapons program.
Russia and Japan are also parties to the talks.
North Korea has been desperate for economic aid after suffering from devastating floods and economic sanctions led by the US because of its nuclear program.
Citing a “severe deficit” of food products in North Korea, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Russia would send 50,000 tonnes of grain to North Korea by the end of next month. It said the first shipment was made on Friday.
Russia and North Korea were once politically close, but relations cooled and trade fell sharply after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia has expressed concern about North Korean missile tests and urged it to abide by commitments on its nuclear program, but has warned South Korea and the US against acting too aggressively with the North.
Russian authorities in Vladivostok, 130km from the North Korean border, had been making preparations for a possible visit by Kim in June, a local official said.
He never arrived, and the newspaper Kommersant reported that he had canceled the visit because of worries about security following media reports that he was coming.
In 2001, Kim traveled more than 7,000km to Moscow by train for talks with Putin, who is now prime minister and is considering a return to the presidency in a vote in March next year.