North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has departed for Russia where he is expected to hold a highly anticipated meeting with President Vladimir Putin that has sparked Western concerns about a potential arms deal for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said that Mr Kim boarded his personal train from the capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday afternoon, and that he will be accompanied by unspecified members of the country’s ruling party, government and military.
State media photos showed Mr Kim walking past honour guards and crowds of civilians holding the national flag and flowers and waving his hand from his green-and-yellow armoured train before it left the station in Pyongyang.
A group of senior officials, including Cabinet Premier Kim Tok Hun, Kim Jong Un’s top economic official, were at the station to give the leader a “hearty send-off”, KCNA said.
KCNA did not specify whether the train had crossed the border.
A brief statement on the Kremlin’s website on Monday said the visit is at Mr Putin’s invitation and would take place “in the coming days”.
KCNA said the leaders would meet – without specifying when and where.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Mr Putin and Mr Kim will lead their delegations in talks and could also meet “one-on-one if necessary.”
The talks will focus on bilateral ties, Mr Peskov said. “As with any of our neighbours, we feel obliged to develop good, mutually beneficial relations,” he added.
A possible venue is the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, where Mr Putin arrived on Monday to attend an international forum that runs through to Wednesday, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
The city, located about 425 miles north of Pyongyang, was also the site of Mr Putin’s first meeting with Mr Kim in 2019.
The visit would be Mr Kim’s first foreign trip since the Covid-19 pandemic, which had forced North Korea to enforce tight border controls for more than three years to shield its poor health care system.
While Mr Kim has shown to be more comfortable using planes than his famously flight-adverse father, he has also used his personal train for previous meetings with Mr Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and former US president Donald Trump, reviving a symbol of his family’s dynastic rule.