The Kremlin has confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will pay an official visit to Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin in a Monday statement.
While prior reports speculated that such a meeting could be coming soon, which will mark their first such summit since the Ukraine war started, the Kremlin statement indicates it's happening sooner than expected - even this week.
The Russian government announcement said Kim and Putin will meet "in the coming days". Already, South Korean state media is reporting that Kim is "slowly moving inside North Korea on a private train toward the northeastern border" and that the two leaders plan to "meet and have a talk."
Given the proximity of the tiny border shared between the two countries, the meeting is likely to happen in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, which was location of their first ever meeting in April 2019. The city lies some 80 miles from the North Korean border.
Last week it was revealed that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are "actively advancing" - coming after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's July trip to Pyongyang, where he and his delegation met with his North Korean counterpart and top officials, and were on hand to observe 70th anniversary celebrations of the end of the Korean War, referred to in the north as "Victory Day".
During Shoigu's July visit, North Korea’s Defense Minister, Kang Sun Nam, reportedly said his government fully supports Russia’s "battle for justice" and protection of its sovereignty, but there was no indication that Kim himself invoked the Ukraine conflict directly. Shoigu had reportedly at the time praised the north's army as among the world's "strongest".
Both countries remain in US crosshairs and under far-reaching sanctions. Shoigu's visit had indeed likely kick-started serious dialogue, given it marked the first visit by a Russian defense ministry to North Korea since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. So the next step, we now learn, is precisely an an ultra-provocative Kim trip to meet with Putin inside Russia.
At the end of last month, White House NSC official John Kirby predicted, "Following these negotiations, high-level discussions may continue in coming months." That's also when the NSC first alleged that the two sides are negotiating over "significant quantities and multiple types" of weapons to use in Ukraine.
It could be that preparation for a major arms deal has already been laid, and that Kim and Putin will finalize it and sign an agreement. It's been well known that Russia has been rapidly blowing through artillery shells in Ukraine, and that this is a big and constant need for Putin to execute the war.