Russia and North Korea have many things in common.
They’re both suspicious of the west, have histories steeped in communism and leaders who like jumping into a saddle.
It may have been too cold to go barechested, but North Korean leader Kim Jong-un channelled Russia’s Vladimir Putin while riding a white horse in the snow up a secret mountain.
The dramatic photos were released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and captured the 35-year-old riding a horse on Mount Paektu through what the agency claimed was the first snowfall of the year.
Mt Paektu and the white horse are central to the Kim family’s mythology and visits often herald major political moves, both domestic and foreign.
The young dictator reportedly visited the mountain on horseback before the 2013 execution of his powerful uncle and the 2018 decision to embark on diplomacy with Seoul and Washington.
Last year he also took South Korean President Moon Jae-in up the active volcano.
“His march on horseback in Mt Paektu is a great event of weighty importance in the history of the Korean revolution,” KCNA said.
“Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mt Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution.”
The report described the leader’s eyes as being “full of noble glitters” as he looked around on top of the mountain.
The dramatic images have caught the attention of social media users worldwide, but they’ve also sent North Korea watchers into a frenzy, speculating over what the trip signals.
Laura Bicker, the BBC’s Seoul coorspodent argues that the images are a projection of strength, but it’s the state media language that is most important.
“There’s speculation that this time Kim could be rethinking his promise to refrain from testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons,“ she writes.
“Talks with the US are currently at a stalemate and Donald Trump is a little distracted by other domestic and foreign affairs.
“The North Korean leader may be using the brisk mountain air to consider ways of attracting the attention of the Trump administration.”
The pictures quickly circulated around social media, with users unsure of what to make of them.
“Well these pics of Kim Jong-un scaling Paektu on a white horse are … quite something,” managing editor at NK News, Oliver Hotham, tweeted.
Mount Paektu is said to be the birthplace of Dangun, the founder of the first Korean kingdom more than 4,000 years ago.
And Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, was frequently pictured riding white horses after he propertied he was visited by the animal during his battles against the Japanese.
Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the US have nosedived in recent months with talks in Stockholm ending with North Korea issuing an angry denunciation of Washington.
North Korea said the negotiations had “not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off” while the US maintained that “good discussions were had”.