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Putin to visit Kim in North Korea on June 18-19

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By Guy Faulconbridge and Josh Smith

MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit North Korea on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Kremlin said, a rare trip that underscores Moscow’s burgeoning partnership with the reclusive nuclear-armed state.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un extended an invitation to Putin during a visit to Russia’s Far East last September. Putin last visited Pyongyang in July 2000.

“At the invitation of the Chairman of State Affairs of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin will pay a friendly state visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on June 18-19,” the Kremlin said.

Putin will then visit Vietnam on June 19-20, the Kremlin said. Both visits had been expected, although the dates had not previously been announced.

Russia has gone out of its way to publicise the renaissance of its relationship with North Korea since the start of the war in Ukraine, sparking alarm among the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia.

Washington says North Korea has supplied weapons to Russia to help it fight in Ukraine, though Pyongyang has repeatedly denied this.

For Putin, who says Russia is locked in an existential battle with the West over Ukraine, courting Kim allows him to needle Washington and its Asian allies.

United Nations monitors concluded that at least one ballistic missile fired from Russia at a city in Ukraine in January was made in North Korea. Ukrainian officials say they have counted about 50 such missiles delivered to Russia by North Korea.

“The list of countries willing to welcome Putin is shorter than ever, but for Kim Jong Un, this visit is a victory,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“Not only does the summit upgrade North Korea’s status among countries standing against the U.S.-led international order, it also helps bolster Kim’s domestic legitimacy.”

South Korea’s vice foreign minister, Kim Hong-kyun, discussed Putin’s planned visit to the north in an emergency phone call with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell on Friday, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.

The visit should not result in more military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow in violation of U.N. resolutions, the South Korean ministry said.

Russia says it will cooperate with North Korea and develop relations in the manner it chooses and that it will not be told what to do by any country, least of all the United States.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Josh Smith in SeoulEditing by Mark Trevelyan and Peter Graff)

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