North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia later this month, the Kremlin said Thursday, in a meeting that offers President Vladimir Putin an opportunity to emerge as a broker in the long-running nuclear standoff and raise Russia's profile in regional affairs.
The Kremlin said in a brief statement Thursday that Kim will visit Russia "in the second half of April" on Putin's invitation, but gave no further details.
Russian media have been abuzz in recent days with rumors about the first one-to-one meeting between the leaders.
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Putin is set to visit China later this month, and some media speculated that he could meet with Kim during a stopover in Vladivostok, the far eastern port city near the border with North Korea.
Kim said last week that he is open to a third summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, but set the year's end as a deadline for Washington to offer mutually acceptable terms for Pyongyang to commit to give up its nuclear facilities, weapons and missiles. The North Korean leader blamed the collapse of his February summit with Trump on what he described as unilateral demands by the U.S.
For Kim, the meeting may allow him to expand his options in talks with Trump and also balance the influence of China, the main ally and sponsor of the communist North.
Russia was involved in the Chinese-led six-nation talks, aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees. The North withdrew from those talks in 2009.
Moscow maintained close ties with Pyongyang during the Soviet era, building dozens of factories and key infrastructure, sending supplies and providing weapons for the North Korean military. Those ties withered after the 1991 Soviet collapse, when Moscow cold-shouldered former Soviet allies amid the nation's economic meltdown.
Shortly after his first election, Putin sought to re-invigorate ties with North Korea, visiting Pyongyang in July 2000 en route to a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations in Okinawa. In an apparent bid to steal the global limelight, Putin then boasted about securing a promise from then-leader Kim Jong Il to abandon North Korea's missile program in exchange for foreign help in launching satellites, but he suffered a setback when Kim quickly disavowed his statement.
Despite the gaffe, Putin continued courting North Korean's leader, who crossed Russia by train to visit Moscow in 2001. He again visited regions in Russia's far east the following year, and made another trip across the border in 2011.
While Russian-North Korean military cooperation was stopped by the United Nations sanctions, Moscow supplied grain and provided humanitarian aid to the North, and tens of thousands of North Korean migrant laborers have worked in Russia's underpopulated Far East.
The Kremlin has written off North Korea's Soviet-era debts, but attempts at broader cooperation have stalled.
For many years, Moscow has touted the prospects of trans-Korean railway, natural gas pipeline and power lines — ambitious projects that would allow Russia to significantly increase its regional clout. No visible progress has been made.
Russia is interested in gaining broader access to North Korea's mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang needs Russia's electricity supplies and wants to attract Russian investment to modernize the obsolescent Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.