North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrives in Moscow Friday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The talks will focus on bilateral relations and international security issues.
Mr. Kim is scheduled to meet the Russian leader Saturday and the two are expected to sign a joint declaration that is likely to include opposition to an American missile defense system.
The general view here is that Russia hopes the trip will make North Korea less isolated both politically and economically. Analysts believe the Russians would like to portray North Korea as less hostile than it is generally perceived in the West, thereby mitigating the need for the missile defense plan.
Russia would also like to see improved links between North and South Korea. That would ease tensions on Russia's eastern border but it could also open the way for Russian access to South Korean markets.
Moscow wants to win Mr. Kim's support for linking Russia's Trans-Siberian railroad with the planned railway linking the two Koreas. Such a rail network could bring part of South Korea's multibillion-dollar trade with Europe into Russia and across the Trans-Siberian line. South Korea has also expressed its enthusiasm for such a link, but North Korea has been more cautious.
Russia argues such a link would cut the 30-40 days required for sea transport in half. Capacity could also shoot up from 200,000 containers a year to a 500,000. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has said such a rail link could rival Russia's oil and gas sector as a financial resource.
Mr. Kim's visit follows a train journey across Russia. The trip is his first to Russia and third abroad since he took power in 1994.
In addition to his talks with President Putin, Mr. Kim is to visit mission control for Russia's space agency before heading for Saint Petersburg.