RAJIN, North Korea (Reuters) - Russia re-opened a railway link with North Korea on Sunday, holding out the prospect of increased trade for the reclusive nation with its biggest neighbors after years of international sanctions.
Impoverished and squeezed by sanctions for conducting a series of nuclear and missile tests, North Korea has reached out to Moscow and Beijing for help to fill the gap left by the drying up of South Korean and U.S. economic assistance.
The head of Russia's state railway monopoly said the 54-km (34-mile) track from the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to the North Korean port of Rajin would export coal and import goods from South Korea and other Asian countries.
The link is part of a more ambitious plan for a railway line from Europe to Asia, which could offer faster freight transportation than alternative sea routes.
"This is part of a trans-Korean transport line that will link ... this region with Europe via Russian territory," Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin said on a visit to Rajin to mark the completion of the railway line.
Russia's renovation of the line, which began in 2008, and construction of a container terminal in Rajin, hub of North Korea's Rason Special Economic Zone, are part of a deal reached in 2001 when late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited Russia.
Yakunin said the railway and container terminal, a project worth 9 billion roubles ($283 million), would work at a capacity of 4 million metric tons a year within two years.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Mark Potter)