Ulan-Ude: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on Tuesday took a dip in Siberian waters and toured a plant making assault aircraft as he relaxed a day ahead of rare talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Kim's armoured train earlier pulled into the traditionally Buddhist city of Ulan-Ude where he is expected to hold talks with Medvedev on Wednesday in an apparent bid to win aid and energy for his isolated state amid food shortages.
Russian officials have pulled out all the stops for the high-profile visit which has seen Kim rumble across Siberia along the famed Trans-Siberian railway from the Pacific since crossing the border into Russia at the weekend.
Amid unprecedented security involving dozens of guards and North Korean snipers, the reclusive Kim was taken to the small village of Turka on the picturesque shores of Lake Baikal, a regional official said.
In the company of local legislature speaker Matvei Gershevich, Kim took a swim in the pool filled with Lake Baikal water which locals believe has medicinal powers and gives bathers vital energy and health, he said.
"It is considered sacred," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Kim was also given a boat ride across the lake and was offered local delicacies like the endemic omul fish and traditional Buryat dish of meat dumplings known as buuza.
World famous for its dramatic beauty, Lake Baikal contains around a fifth of the world's fresh water and is home to a variety of endemic species.
Kim also visited the Soviet-era Ulan-Ude aviation plant making assault jets and helicopters. "It was a good day," said another local official involved with the visit, noting the straight-faced Kim sported his trademark sunglasses.
In an apparent nod to Kim's concerns about personal safety, the Kremlin imposed a virtual blanket ban on information about Kim's plans and itinerary.
The summit talks are expected to take place Wednesday at the Sosnovy Bor (Pine Forest) military base outside the city of Ulan Ude some 5,550 kilometres (3,450 miles) east of Moscow, a regional official familiar with the planning said.
Pyongyang's nuclear programme, energy and food shortages in the isolated Stalinist state are expected to top the summit agenda, analysts say.
Military cooperation is also likely to be addressed. Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov flew earlier Tuesday to Ulan Ude for a working visit, said a Defence Ministry spokesman.
A delegation of Russian military officials had on Monday arrived in North Korea for a week-long visit with an eye to boosting military and naval cooperation, the defence ministry said.
Analysts also say Kim's visit is aimed at obtaining more food aid and economic assistance from Russia.
Kim was also expected to seek Moscow's support for a third-generation father-to-son succession by Kim's youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-Un, as well as Russia's help in trying to restart stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
Pyongyang stormed out of the six-party negotiations -- grouping the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States -- in April 2009 and conducted its second nuclear test a month later, but has expressed a desire to return to the forum.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Moscow was sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea to help it cope with an "acute shortage of food supplies".
The summit is expected to go down in history as a milestone in ties and provides an opportunity for the Kremlin to burnish its credentials as a negotiator capable of dealing with so-called pariah regimes.
Kim crossed the border into Russia on Saturday for a week-long trip along the Trans-Siberian railway, his first visit to his giant neighbour since 2002. It is his third trip to Russia in a decade.
On Sunday he visited the 2,000 megawatt-strong Bureiskaya hydro-power station in the Amur region, the largest in the Far East.
First Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 09:05