Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands while posing for a picture prior to their talks in Vladivostok. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Reuters

Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday began their first official meeting in the Far Eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok.

"I'm happy to see you here," Putin told Kim, adding that he hoped he could help resolve the dispute between the US and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

"We welcome your efforts on the development of inter-Korean dialogue and on the normalization of North Korean-US relations," he added.

The two leaders were pictured shaking hands at the beginning of their meeting under tight security on Russky island, part of a university campus, before sitting down and smiling into the waiting cameras.

After the ceremonial greeting the two leaders were to hold one-on-one talks followed by expanded talks, according to the Russian news agency TASS. No formal statement or declaration were expected.

The talks were also to focus on economic cooperation between the two countries.

They come as North Korea seeks allies after the failure of a summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi in February. Moscow and Pyongyang have traditionally had good relations.

The Washington wants Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons while North Korea is seeking the lifting of international sanctions which have stifled its economy.

However little progress has been made since Trump and Kim first met in Singapore last year and tensions have continued to simmer.

North Korea this month demanded that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be replaced as chief negotiator in their talks, saying he should be replaced with someone "more mature."

And on Thursday Pyongyang threatened a "corresponding response" from its army after the US and South Korea launched a two-week long series of joint airforce drills earlier this week.

Pyongyang has long viewed joint military exercises by the two countries as a provocation and a rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea.

The latest drills were an "outright challenge" to the Panmunjom peace declaration signed by North and South Korean leaders last year, a spokesman from Pyongyang's reunification committee was quoted as saying by state-run news agency KCNA.