(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived for his first visit to North Korea in 24 years as the US warned the meeting could further arms transfers from Kim Jong Un’s regime that aid the Kremlin in its assault on Ukraine.

Kim personally greeted and hugged Putin after he touched down at Sunan International Airport, which serves the capital Pyongyang, early Wednesday, and then they drove away in Putin’s limo, according to video posted by Russian state news agency TASS. Putin’s portrait was seen on almost every second lamppost along the way, and there were dozens of cars and motorcycles in the entourage with security guards lined up the route. 

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The two started their formal talks around noon local time, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, but details of the discussions were not immediately available. 

The US and its allies are likely to focus on the level of military cooperation between the two rulers that emerges from their talks after Russia said an agreement on strategic partnership would be signed to replace existing accords dating back as far as 1961, when the Soviet Union was North Korea’s biggest backer. 

Putin’s trip comes after Kim traveled to Russia in September, which as satellite imagery later showed was followed by a massive growth in arms transfers. Putin is in Pyongyang for the first time since he visited in 2000 as Russia’s president. He and Kim are scheduled to hold bilateral talks, including one-on-one, and the two sides will sign agreements, including on security and economic cooperation. 

“Passing through charmingly lit streets of Pyongyang at night, the top leaders exchanged their pent-up inmost thoughts and opened their minds to more surely develop the DPRK-Russia relations in conformity with the common desire and will of the peoples of the two countries with the meeting as a momentum,” North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported, referring to the country by its formal name.

The two leaders will also make press statements, Interfax reported, citing Putin’s foreign policy aide. Putin will travel to Vietnam on Wednesday evening after wrapping up talks with Kim, according to the Kremlin.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday in Washington that Russia is trying “in desperation to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression it started against Ukraine.” Pyongyang has provided Moscow with “significant munitions” and other weapons for use in Ukraine, he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, standing alongside Blinken, expressed concern about possible Russian support for North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

Kim has visited plants making munitions in recent months, while overseeing tests of weapons that South Korea has said he could send to Russia. These include a 240 millimeter multiple rocket launcher, which weapons experts said is a guided missile system with an estimated range of up to 70 kilometers (44 miles). North Korea has also tested a close-range ballistic missile, with one flying 235 kms.

“This summit serves as both a testament to the current strength of the relationship between the two countries and a harbinger of an even stronger partnership in the future,” said Lami Kim, a professor of security studies at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. 

“Their economic and military cooperation will further undermine the effectiveness of sanctions against North Korea, enhance North Korea’s military capabilities, and elevate Kim Jong Un’s legitimacy to rule internally,” she said.

North Korea possesses some of the largest stores of artillery and weapons that are interoperable with Soviet-era systems deployed on the front lines in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the arms transfers. 

“We highly appreciate the DPRK’s unwavering support for Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, their solidarity with us on key international matters and willingness to defend our common priorities and views within the United Nations,” Putin wrote in an article published on a Kremlin website and in North Korea’s official media. 

In return for the munitions from Kim’s regime that could reach as high as nearly 5 million artillery shells, Russia has sent to North Korea technology to help in its plans to deploy an array of spy satellites, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik said in a recent interview with Bloomberg News. 

Russia will likely send military technology to Kim, increasing Pyongyang’s threat to the region, Shin said, adding he expects Putin to ask Kim for more missiles and munitions.

Putin’s visit came hours after the first high-level security talks between China and South Korea in about nine years on Tuesday. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of China as an economic power, Beijing has been Pyongyang’s main benefactor. But the deepening relationship between Kim and Putin may be leading to a realignment.

“North Korea’s preference to work with Russia seems to be impacting DPRK-China relations negatively at this point in time,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee,  a senior fellow with the 38 North Program at the Stimson Center. 

“But closer DPRK-Russia relations may not necessarily be a bad thing for China in the longer run, especially if the two countries can help to disrupt the US agenda without negatively impacting China’s core interests,” she said.

--With assistance from Courtney McBride, Tony Halpin and Denny Thomas.

(Updates with start of talks in third paragraph.)

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