North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il has arrived in Russia via his armored train to meet President Dmitry Medvedev, the Kremlin said.
In his first visit since 2002, Kim is expected to meet with the Kremlin chief for talks in Siberia to discuss North Korea's nuclear program, bilateral economic projects and a worsening food crisis in the isolated state, AFP reports.
"A meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kim Jong-ll will be the main event of the visit," the Kremlin said in a statement, saying Kim would also visit the Far Eastern and Siberian regions.
Kim's train crossed the border on Saturday, in Khasan district about 12 pm local time (0100 GMT).
He is expected to meet with Medvedev in the Siberian city of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal later this week.
The visit comes as fears mount of a worsening hunger crisis in the Stalinist state, putting at risk hundreds of thousands of people.
The Russian foreign ministry said on Friday that Moscow was sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea to help it cope with an "acute shortage of food supplies."
The situation has become so dire that an increasing number of North Koreans have resorted to eating grass, the European Commission has said.
Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said Kim's latest visit to Russia was aimed at obtaining food aid and economic assistance.
Moscow's support for a third-generation father-to-son succession by his youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-Un and Russia's cooperation in resuming the stalled six-party talks will also be on the agenda, he said.
Diplomatic efforts have been under way to resume disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, Russia, China, Japan and the United States recently.
The North Korean leader may also meet with Prime Minister Putin as he plans to remain in the country for about a week, AFP reports.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing a government source in Seoul, said that Kim would meet with Medvedev on Tuesday in Ulan Ude, a Siberian town several hundred miles northwest of Vladivostok.
Kim’s trip, Pyongyang said via an invitation from Medvedev, whose government has been pushing North Korea to cooperate on plans to connect a railway and a gas pipeline that would run from Russia through the divided Korean Peninsula, the Washington Post reports.
North Korea has so far not allowed massive foreign projects, except for in special development zones.
But if North Korea goes along with the gas pipeline project — in which Russian exporter Gazprom will send annually send 10 billion cubic meters of gas to South Korea for three decades — it could benefit from handling fees, the Washington Post reports.
It would also allow the North a measure of influence in Seoul’s economy, it says.