North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il has arrived in Russia for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev expected to be dominated by Russian economic aid plans to build a gas pipeline and a resumption of talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Several hours after Kim’s armoured train crossed the Russian-North Korean border on Saturday the Kremlin issued a short communiqué saying the North Korean leader would tour a number of regions in the Russian Far East and Siberia.

“A meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kim Jong-ll will be the main event of the visit,” the Kremlin said.

Analysts said Mr. Kim’s main concern is to secure increased economic aid to North Korea to help cope with severe food shortages.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that a first shipment of Russian wheat arrived in North Korea under Moscow’s plan to send up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat by September at the request of the government in Pyongyang to help it cope with an “acute shortage of food supplies”.

Mr. Medvedev, for his part, will lobby Mr. Kim for the construction of a gas pipeline, power lines and a railway through North Korea to South Korea. The Russian leader on Monday called for cooperation with Pyongyang in these projects in a congratulatory message to Mr. Kim on the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Last week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying that Moscow’s talks with Pyongyang and Seoul separately on the gas pipe were making progress.

South Korea has contracted to purchase 7.5 million tonnes of Russian LNG gas annually for 30 years starting in 2015, and a pipeline through North Korea would reduce delivery costs by at least 14 per cent, according to energy experts. The project will give North Korea much needed hard currency and solve its energy problems.

Russia is also keen to build a rail line across North Korea to South Korea and connect it to the trans-Siberian railroad, making it possible to ship goods between Korea’s Pacific ports and Europe.

The Russian and North Korean leaders are also bound to discuss prospects for reviving six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programme. The talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and China, have been stalled since December 2008.

It is Mr. Kim’s third visit to Russia. In 2001, he travelled over 7,000 km to Moscow and St. Petersburg by train for talks with then President Vladimir Putin. In 2002, Kim made a shorter trip to Russia limited to the Far East.

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