North Korean state media has confirmed that leader Kim Jong-un will travel to Russia “soon” for his first ever meeting with Vladimir Putin.
While no date has been announced, the Kremlin has also said the two will meet “in the second half of April”.
Speculation is growing that they’ll meet in Russia’s eastern port of Vladivostok, just hours from their shared border, later this week.
It comes soon after the collapse of the Trump-Kim talk in Hanoi. But both sides will be bringing very different agendas to the table.
The Soviet Union was a major ally of North Korea, offering economic co-operation, cultural exchanges and aid. It also provided North Korea with its initial nuclear know-how.
But since the collapse of the Iron Curtain the relationship has suffered. With weakened ideological ties there was no reason for special treatment and support. And as a regular trading partner, North Korea was not very attractive to Russia, as it was unable to pay international market prices.
Since Russia’s gradual estrangement with the West since the early 2000s, relations have picked up somewhat. Moscow has found itself backing countries “based on the old logic that my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” explains Professor Andrei Lankov of Seoul’s Kookmin University.
The last North Korea-Russia bilateral meeting was in 2011, when then President Dmitry Medvedev met Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.
Their relationship makes sense geographically – they share a short border not far from the important Russian port city of Vladivostok, where the two leaders are widely expected to meet.
According to Russia’s foreign ministry, there are also some 8,000 North Korean migrant labourers working in Russia, sending vital revenues back home. Other estimates put that number much higher.
Under the current UN sanctions, all of these workers will have to be sent home by the end of the year.
What does North Korea want?
The Hanoi summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump collapsed without any agreement or progress on North Korea’s nuclear programme.
It’s an outcome the North Korean leadership had not expected. It had hoped to agree a compromise which would see the some easing of the international sanctions which are damaging its economy.
“International sanctions are beginning to take effect and without a change in the US position, it’s very unlikely North Korea will be able to get sanctions relief and pick up trade with the outside world,” says Prof Lankov.