North Korea wants to expand political and economic ties with Russia, dictator Kim Jong Un said on the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I hope that during negotiations with President Putin, I will be able to discuss issues of the settlement on the Korean Peninsula and the development of our bilateral relations in detail,” Kim told Russian media in Vladivostok, a major port city in Russia’s far east.

The summit could help fortify the Pyongyang regime against the United States' maximum pressure campaign as Kim takes a more defiant posture after two summits with President Trump failed to produce an agreement. Russia has opposed U.S. tactics in the denuclearization talks over the last two years, despite maintaining official opposition to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

"Russia is opposed to North Korea being backed into the corner and forced to toe the United States’ line," Vladimir Dzhabarov, a top senator on Russia’s foreign affairs committee, told Russian state-run media. "We also support the dialogue between North Korea and its southern neighbors and the DPRK’s contacts with the United States. That’s a positive sign indeed, since it is clear that the Americans will not be able to solve the problems without Russia’s and China’s involvement."

That position has placed Russia in opposition to the American strategy to persuade Kim to dismantle his nuclear weapons arsenal. Trump’s team adopted a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions paired with the credible threat that Trump would order a military strike against North Korea rather than allow the regime to acquire the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. But Russia and China have undermined that effort by throwing North Korea a series of economic lifelines over U.S. objections.

“Step-by-step, sanction-by-sanction, and time and time again, Russia is working across the board to undermine the sanctions regime,” then-Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said last year. "Every time the Security Council overlooks sanctions violations, every time we allow the Russians to bury evidence of violations, we remove incentives for Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.”

Russia and China called for an easing of international sanctions on North Korea last year in response to Kim’s decision to halt missile tests, but the U.S. can veto any sanctions relief proposed at the U.N. Security Council.

“I would love nothing more than to lift the sanctions on North Korea. ... It would mean that North Korea no longer had a nuclear weapons program or a weapons of mass destruction program,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a recent address at Texas A&M University. “They’re not American sanctions. These are U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Pompeo has led the U.S. negotiating effort with North Korea since an Easter weekend trip to Pyongyang in 2018. Kim is making the trek to Russia just days after one of his officials demanded that Trump replace Pompeo in the talks, maintaining that his absence would make it easier to persuade Trump to agree to lift sanctions.

"We would like to unblock economic relations between the two countries within the boundaries allowed by the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions,” Georgy Toloraya, director of the Asian Strategy Center under the Russian Academy of Sciences, told state-run media.

It’s far from clear Moscow can provide much extra protection from international sanctions, due to Russia’s own ailing economy.

“Both Russia and [North Korea] would like to reduce U.S. influence in the Korean Peninsula — but at the moment their common preoccupation may be their shared pain from the tightening U.S. economic vise; while they may have much to commiserate about here, any practical plan of action will risk a further tightening of U.S. sanctions screws,” Nicholas Eberstadt, an expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday.