Kim Jong Un invited Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin to visit North Korea during a rare summit, stoking US concerns that a revived Moscow-Pyongyang axis could bolster Russia's military in Ukraine and provide Kim sensitive missile technology.
Putin accepted the invitation, according to North Korean state news agency KCNA, though there was no immediate confirmation from the Kremlin. Since Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Putin has rarely travelled abroad.
Calling each other "comrades", Putin and Kim toasted to their friendship on Wednesday with Russian wine after the 70-year-old Russian president showed Kim, 39, around Russia's most modern space launch facility and they held talks alongside their defence ministers.
"At the end of the reception, Kim Jong Un courteously invited Putin to visit the DPRK at a convenient time," KCNA said, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's formal name.
"Putin accepted the invitation with pleasure and reaffirmed his will to invariably carry forward the history and tradition of the Russia-DPRK friendship," KCNA said.
For the US and allies, the burgeoning friendship between Kim and Putin is a concern: Washington has accused North Korea of providing arms to Russia, but it is unclear whether any deliveries have been made.
Both Russia and North Korea have denied those claims, but promised to deepen defence cooperation, and during a visit to North Korea in July, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was shown banned ballistic missiles by Kim.
Kim is due on Thursday to visit military and civilian aviation factories in the Russian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and to inspect Russia's Pacific fleet in Vladivostok, Putin said.
Over a sumptuous lunch of Russian "pelmeni" dumplings made with Kamchatka crab, white Amur fish soup and sturgeon, Kim on Wednesday toasted to Putin's health, to the victory of "great Russia" and to Korean-Russian friendship, predicting victory for Moscow in its "sacred fight" with the West.
North Korea was founded in September 1948 with the backing of the Soviet Union, and Moscow supported it for decades during the Cold War, though support dropped off after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
In recent years, China has been seen as the power with the most influence over Kim, but Pyongyang's leaders have often tried to balance ties with both Moscow and Beijing.
After taking over from Boris Yeltsin in 1999, Putin visited Pyongyang in July 2000 for a meeting with Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un.
At the summit on Wednesday, it was unclear just how far Putin was prepared to go in fulfilling North Korean wish lists for technology.
Amid the grinding artillery battles in Ukraine, Russia has ramped up its shell production, but a North Korean supply line could be useful.
North Korea is believed to have a large stockpile of artillery shells and rockets compatible with Soviet-era weapons, as well as a history of producing such ammunition.
Asked whether Russia could simply remove sanctions on North Korea, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia remained a responsible member of the UN Security Council.
But Peskov added that Moscow would develop its relations with North Korea in accordance with its own interests. Russian state television said the West's rebukes over the summit were typical "hypocrisy" and pointed to US military supplies to its allies in Asia.
The US State Department said the Biden administration "won't hesitate" to impose additional sanctions on Russia and North Korea if they conclude any new arms deals.
South Korea's unification minister, Kim Young-ho, who is in charge of relations with the North, expressed "deep concerns" over military cooperation and possible arms transactions between Pyongyang and Moscow, saying the two countries were apparently continuing to pursue "some kind of" a military deal.