North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apparently left on a special train for Russia and a summit with President Vladimir Putin, South Korean media reported on Monday, citing unnamed senior government sources.
Russian news agency Interfax reported earlier on Monday that Kim, who rarely travels abroad, would visit the Russian Far East “in the coming days.”
The Kremlin said on Saturday that Putin would be in the far eastern city of Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum that opened on Sunday, but said he had “nothing to say” about a possible visit by Kim.
North Korea is one of the few countries that has openly supported Russia since its invasion of Ukraine last year, and Putin promised last week to “expand bilateral relations in all respects in a planned manner through joint efforts.”
Kim’s last trip abroad in 2019 also went to Vladivostok for his first summit with Putin after the collapse of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament talks with former US President Donald Trump.
The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said Kim left Pyongyang late Sunday and would meet Putin as early as Tuesday.
Broadcaster YTN reported that the special train would take Kim to North Korea’s northeastern border with Russia and that the summit was expected to take place on Tuesday, although it was initially reported that it would take place on Wednesday.
Both reports cited unnamed senior South Korean government sources.
Japanese media reported that security measures were being tightened and renovations were being carried out at the main train station in the Russian border town of Khasan, where Kim is expected to enter Russia.
Kim doesn’t travel abroad often, and when he does, it’s often surrounded by secrecy and security. North Korea’s state media made no mention of Kim’s plans to visit Russia.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was monitoring developments but declined to confirm details. South Korea’s Unification Ministry officials said they had no information to provide, while National Intelligence officials could not be reached.
A summit between Kim and Putin would likely focus on military cooperation and possibly an arms supply deal, U.S. and South Korean officials and analysts said.
The United States said it would be a “big mistake” for North Korea to supply Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine and warned Pyongyang it would “pay a price.”
The United States has said talks about North Korea supplying more weapons to Russia are actively progressing, despite repeated denials from Pyongyang and Moscow.
The United States and South Korea have expressed concern about the possibility of greater military cooperation between the North and Russia, as well as a possible arms deal.