North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plans to travel to Russia this month to meet President Vladimir Putin and discuss supplying Moscow with weapons for the war in Ukraine, the New York Times reported.
In a rare trip abroad, Kim would travel from Pyongyang, probably by armoured train, to Vladivostok, on the Pacific Coast of Russia, where he would meet Putin, the Times reported on Monday, citing US and allied sources.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on August 30 that the United States was concerned that arms negotiations between the two countries were advancing.
While in Vladivostok, a port city not far from North Korea, the two leaders would discuss Kim's sending Russia artillery shells and anti-tank missiles in exchange for Moscow's advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, the newspaper reported.
At a time when the United States has expressed concern about growing military ties between the two countries, the news of Kim's planned visit came after Russia said it was discussing holding joint military exercises with North Korea.
"Why not, these are our neighbours. There's an old Russian saying: you don't choose your neighbours and it's better to live with your neighbours in peace and harmony," Interfax news agency quoted Russia's Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, as saying.
When asked about the possibility of joint exercises between the two countries, he said "of course" they were being discussed, it said.
South Korean news agency Yonhap earlier cited South Korea's intelligence agency as saying Shoigu, who visited Pyongyang in July, had proposed to Kim that their countries hold a naval exercise, along with China.
It would be notable if Kim travels to Russia, rather than his main ally and trade partner China, for his first overseas trip since before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University.
The actual military and economic value of any deal is debatable, but discussions would likely lead to at least some military co-operation and an increase in North Korean workers in Russia, while both sides would seek to send political messages to Washington, he said.
For Moscow "it is basically about sending a signal to Washington that Russia is capable of creating some additional trouble for the United States in east Asia," Lankov said.
"Without the Ukraine war, Russia would not care about North Korea," he added.
While Kim might hope for some kind of arms sales or economic aid, his main goal from such a meeting would be to demonstrate that he too has international backing as the United States, South Korea, and Japan deepen ties and displays of military power, Lankov said.
"He wants to show he has friends," he said.
South Korea's foreign ministry said it was monitoring developments and said United Nations member states should not violate sanctions, including through arms deals.
"In particular, military co-operation with North Korea, which undermines the peace and stability of the international community, should not take place," a spokesperson told a briefing.
The Kremlin said last week that Moscow intends to deepen its "mutually respectful relations" with Pyongyang, one of its close Cold War allies and also one of a small handful of countries to back Russia's proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine in 2022.
The New York Times reported that Kim could possibly go to Moscow, although that was not certain.