Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked North Korea for supporting his actions in Ukraine and said their countries will co-operate closely to overcome US-led sanctions as he headed to Pyongyang on Tuesday for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Mr Putin’s comments appeared in North Korean state media hours before he was expected to arrive for a two-day visit as the countries deepen their alignment in the face of separate, intensifying confrontations with Washington.

Mr Putin, who will be making his first visit to North Korea in 24 years, said he highly appreciates its firm support of his invasion of Ukraine.

He said the countries would continue to “resolutely oppose” what he described as Western ambitions to “to hinder the establishment of a multipolarized world order based on mutual respect for justice”.

Mr Putin also said Russia and North Korea will develop unspecified trade and payment systems “that are not controlled by the West” and jointly oppose sanctions against the countries, which he described as “unilateral and illegal restrictive measures”.

North Korea is under heavy UN Security Council economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia is also grappling with sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.

Mr Putin said the countries will also expand cooperation in tourism, culture and education.

The visit comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to fuel Mr Putin’s war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Mr Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre left, and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, center right, examine a launch pad during their meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome outside the city of Tsiolkovsky last year (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Military, economic and other exchanges between North Korea and Russia have sharply increased since Mr Kim visited the Russian Far East in September for a meeting with Mr Putin, their first since 2019.

US and South Korean officials have accused the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment to help prolong its fighting in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid.

Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions Russia previously endorsed.

Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Mr Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid scrutiny as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine.

Earlier this year, Mr Putin sent Mr Kim a high-end Aurus Senat limousine, which he had shown to the North Korean leader when they met for a summit in September. Observers said the shipment violated a UN resolution banning the supply of luxury items to North Korea.

Mr Putin has continuously sought to rebuild ties with Pyongyang as part of efforts to restore his country’s clout and its Soviet-era alliances.

Moscow’s ties with North Korea weakened after the 1991 Soviet collapse. Kim Jong Un first met with Mr Putin in 2019 in Russia’s eastern port of Vladivostok.

After North Korea, the Kremlin said Mr Putin will also visit Vietnam on Wednesday and Thursday for talks that are expected to be focused on trade. The United States, which has spent years strengthening ties and accelerating trade with Vietnam, criticised Mr Putin’s planned visit.

“As Russia continues to seek international support to sustain its illegal and brutal war against Ukraine, we reiterate that no country should give Mr Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities,” a US Embassy spokesperson in Vietnam said in a statement.