Russia is reported to be involved in a project to improve North Korea’s dilapidated power grid and build a new transmission network – a scheme that could cost up to $30bn.
A source in Beijing told a Korean newspaper that the plan would involve part payment in rare earth metals from North Korea.
The news follows reports that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un (pictured), has accepted an invitation to visit Russia in May for the 70th anniversary celebrations of its World War II victory.
"The North and Russia are discussing a plan whereby Russia will get rare earth metals from the North in exchange for assistance in improving the dilapidated power grid," a source in Beijing told South Korean English-language newspaper, Chosun Ilbo.
The cost of the project is estimated to be up to $30bn.
Chosun Ilbo reported that the two countries are also talking about ways to divert surplus electricity from Russia’s Far East to North Korea. Russia’s Far Eastern territory dips south around China to touch the far north eastern tip of North Korea.
Relations between Russia and North Korea have deepened in the wake of Russia’s isolation from the West over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Su-yong, visited a hydroelectric power plant in Bureya, Russia in October. This month, North Korean technicians visited Russia for training, according to Chosun Ilbo.
There is plenty of scope for increased trade between the two countries. Trade volume between North Korea and Russia amounted to just $100m in 2013, while trade with China hit $6.54bn in the same year, the newspaper said.
Photograph: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, with China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao during the 60th anniversary of the Korean war armistice on July 27, 2013 (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)