MOSCOW - North Korea's Kim Jong Un was in Russia Wednesday for a rare summit with President Vladimir Putin that could lead to a weapons deal that the United States has warned would violate international sanctions.
Accompanied by an entourage that suggested a strong military focus for the talks, the North Korean leader arrived in his bullet-proof train at the border town of Khasan on Tuesday and was met by an honour guard and officials, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
While Kim was in Russia, North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the latest in a string of sanctions-busting tests.
Kim said his visit -- a rare foreign trip and his first since the pandemic -- was "a clear manifestation" of North Korea "prioritising the strategic importance" of its ties with Russia.
KCNA said he then "left for his destination". There have been no further details from Russia or North Korea on his itinerary.
Putin told journalists that he would travel to the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a Russian spaceport some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from Vladivostok.
Putin was already at the Cosmodrome waiting for Kim's train to arrive ahead of the summit Wednesday, Japan's Kyodo News Agency reported, citing Russian sources.
Kim's train is heading north and "according to Russian official sources, security has been stepped up around the space station", Kyodo said.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu -- who visited Pyongyang in July and has recently mooted bilateral joint naval drills -- will take part in the negotiations, Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, RIA Novosti and TASS reported.
Kim is travelling to Russia with his top military officials including Korean People's Army Marshal Pak Jong Chon and Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong.
Spaceport 'optimal location'
The meeting at the cosmodrome would be symbolic and send a signal that Russia might help North Korea with its rocketry and satellite programmes, experts said.
Pyongyang failed twice recently in its bid to put a military spy satellite into orbit.
"The spaceport seems to be the optimal location because it responds to mutual interests, such as providing satellite technology requested by North Korea," An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.
Russia is eager for North Korea's stockpile of artillery shells likely for use in Ukraine, while Pyongyang is looking for help in upgrading its Soviet-era equipment especially for its air force and navy, he said.
"If North Korea's multiple rocket launchers and other artillery shells are provided to Russia in large quantities, it could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine," he added.
Russia's natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov greeted Kim at the station and gave him historic autographed photographs of Soviet cosmonauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Kozlov's ministry told TASS.
Russia and North Korea's communication is back on a pre-Covid track with dialogue "actively developing", foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told TASS.
"Our contacts are developing literally on a daily basis in a number of areas."
The White House warned last week that North Korea would "pay a price" if it supplies Russia with weaponry for the conflict in Ukraine.
Kim is taking a major risk with his Russia visit, Kim Byung-yeon, Director of Seoul National University's Institute for Future Strategy, wrote in South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.
"China's response is a problem. Beijing, which is trying to keep North Korea within its sphere of influence, cannot welcome the close relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow," he wrote.
Any major arms deal with Russia would mean "the fate of North Korea and Kim Jong Un will depend on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. If Russia loses the war or Putin falls out, Kim could be in for the same fate."