Putin and North Korea's Kim take turns to drive each other in Russian-made limousine

By Andrew Osborn

(Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took turns to drive each other around in a Russian-built Aurus limousine on Wednesday after the Kremlin said Putin had gifted one of the luxury vehicles to Kim.

In a carefully staged public relations opportunity held amid tight security, the two leaders used the moment to show how close their working relationship has become during what was a pomp-filled visit to Pyongyang by Putin, his first in nearly a quarter of a century.

Their jaunt took place after the two leaders had signed a deal that included a mutual defence pledge, one of Russia's most significant moves in Asia for years that Kim said amounted to an "alliance".

Video released by Russian state TV showed Putin jumping behind the wheel of the black armoured Aurus, which is his official presidential car back in Russia, with Kim getting in the passenger seat.

The car is then shown driving on a road which weaves its way through a carefully manicured park area before coming to a halt. A Korean man in a suit wearing white gloves is seen opening the door for Kim before rushing round to hold Putin's door.

Putin and Kim are then shown walking side by side and chatting on a path in a wooded area with two men, presumably translators, walking behind them.

Kim, who is believed to be a keen automobile enthusiast, is then shown driving Putin back.

One of Putin's aides said earlier on Wednesday that the Russian leader had presented Kim with a Russian-built Aurus limousine as a gift.

Putin gave Kim a first Aurus limousine in February this year, both countries said at the time, meaning he now has at least two of the vehicles.

The Aurus Senat, retro-styled after the Soviet-era ZIL limousine, is the official Russian presidential car and Putin rode in one to his most recent Kremlin inauguration ceremony in May.

When Kim visited eastern Russia in September last year, Putin showed him one of the vehicles. Kim sat beside Putin in the car and appeared to enjoy it.

Kim has a large collection of luxury foreign vehicles which have probably been smuggled in, as U.N. Security Council resolutions ban the export of luxury goods to North Korea.

He has been spotted in a Maybach limousine, several Mercedes, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Lexus sports utility vehicle.

Aurus Motors began making its cars in Russia's Tatarstan region, around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from Moscow, in 2021.

A senior Russian official said last month that Russia would start making Aurus cars at a former Toyota factory in St. Petersburg this year.

Russia is looking for ways to use car factories left idle after some global automakers withdrew from the Russian market following Putin's decision to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Western sanctions imposed on Russia since have helped sharply push up prices for new cars and seen Chinese manufacturers expand their market share as some mass market Russian carmakers have struggled.

According to Russian analytical agency Autostat, 40 Aurus-branded cars have been sold in Russia so far this year.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)