VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in Russia on a special train on Saturday as the isolated state tries to reach out to regional powers and seek economic aid.
In his first public visit to Russia in nearly a decade, Kim will meet President Dmitry Medvedev and will spend time in the country's Far East and Siberia, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russia is a member of the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, though China now holds more influence with North Korea than Russia does.
Kim made his last public visit to Russia in 2002, when he met then-President Vladimir Putin in the far eastern city of Vladivostok. He has visited China, Pyongyang's closest big-power ally, three times in just over a year.
Kim arrived in the town of Khasan, near the short border between North Korea and Russia, and was greeted by the Primorye region governor and President Dmitry Medvedev's representative in the Russian Far East, a regional government source said.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing a South Korean government source, said Kim would likely hold talks with Medvedev in Ulan-Ude, hundreds of kilometers (miles) further west near Lake Baikal in Siberia.
"We understand Chairman Kim's special train arrived at Khasan Station at about 10 a.m. after crossing the border between North Korea and Russia and that a welcoming ceremony is happening there," Yonhap quoted the source as saying.
The Kremlin statement confirmed Kim was arriving on Saturday and said he would spend time in the Far East and Siberia.
"The main event of the visit will be President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with Kim Jong-il," it said.
Yonhap said Kim was expected to stay in Russia for a week.
The visit follows a series of top-level meetings between Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington and Beijing that has raised hopes of a resumption of long-stalled talks on disabling the secretive North's nuclear weapons programme.
Russia and Japan are also parties to the talks.
North Korea has been desperate for economic aid after suffering from devastating floods and economic sanctions led by the United States because of its nuclear programme.
Citing a "severe deficit" of food products in North Korea, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Russia would send 50,000 tonnes of grain to North Korea by the end of September. It said the first shipment was made on Friday.
Russia and North Korea were once politically close, but relations cooled and trade fell sharply after the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia has expressed concern about North Korea missile tests and urged it to abide by commitments on its nuclear programme, but has warned South Korea and the United States against acting too aggressively with the North.
Russian authorities in Vladivostok, 130 km (80 miles) from the North Korean border, had been making preparations for a possible visit by Kim in June, according to a local official.
He never arrived, and the newspaper Kommersant reported that he had canceled the visit because of worries about security following media reports that he was coming.
In 2001, Kim travelled over 7,000 km (4,500 miles) to Moscow by train for talks with Putin, who is now prime minister and is considering a return to the presidency in a vote next March.
(Additional reporting by Sung-won Shim in Seoul and Alexei Anishchuk in Mscow; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa and Michael Roddy)