North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a submarine, which the regime claims is its first tactical nuclear sub, at Sinpho shipyard on Friday. Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- North Korea on Monday confirmed that its leader Kim Jong Un will "soon" visit Russia for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Kim's special train heading for Russia, amid growing concerns that the two countries could sign an arms deal.
The confirmation follows earlier remarks from South Korean government officials that a special train believed to be carrying Kim appeared to have departed for Russia, although it has not been confirmed whether Kim was on the train.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday that the "respected Comrade Kim Jong Un will meet and have a talk with Comrade Putin during the visit."
The Kremlin also confirmed that Kim will visit Russia "in coming days" at the invitation of Putin, according to Russian news agency TASS.
The agencies, however, did not provide further details, including the timing of Kim's arrival or when the summit would take place.
The Kremlin added that negotiations between North Korean and Russian delegations are planned during Kim's visit, with discussions over the possibility of a one-on-one meeting between the leaders.
South Korean government officials earlier said a special train presumably carrying the North Korean leader appeared to have departed for Russia.
"The intelligence authorities believe the train presumed to be carrying Kim Jong Un is moving to Vladivostok," the official told Yonhap News Agency.
Another senior official confirmed that Kim appears to have departed Pyongyang and is headed to Russia.
If the train is confirmed to have headed for Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok, the trip is expected to take 20 hours or more.
The New York Times earlier reported that Kim plans to travel to Vladivostok, possibly by armored train this month, for talks with Putin about the possibility of supplying Russia with more weaponry for its war in Ukraine and other military cooperation.
Earlier in the day, Russia's Interfax news agency also reported that Kim is likely to visit Russia's Far East "in the coming days," citing multiple regional sources.
South Korea's defense ministry said Monday it sees the "possibility" of a summit between Kim and Putin.
The assessment came amid media reports that Kim and Putin could hold a summit on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, which kicked off Sunday for a four-day run.
Russian media outlet RTVI, however, said the two leaders are not expected to meet during the EEF.
"There are no plans for talks between President Putin and Chairman Kim Jong Un at the EEF," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying.
Peskov neither confirmed nor denied Kim's trip to Russia, according to the RTVI.
If confirmed, the trip would mark the first such visit to Russia by Kim in nearly 4 1/2 years and his first trip abroad since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pyongyang has recently been seeking to bolster military ties with Moscow in the wake of growing security cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan.
U.S. officials have warned that Russia is actively negotiating arms deals with North Korea for Russia's war on Ukraine.
"Russia is negotiating potential deals for significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from the DPRK to be used against Ukraine," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the United Nations last month.
Kim last visited Russia in 2019.