Gas crisis overshadows Putin's visit to Germany
Putin and Merkel are to discuss economic and political ties as well as the gas crisis.
Moscow -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin heads to Berlin on Friday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Putin overshadowed by the gas crisis that has left much of Europe without heat amid freezing weather.
Following the summit in Germany -- Russia's biggest trading partner and one of its main allies in the European Union -- Putin will visit Dresden, the city where he served as a KGB agent in the waning days of the Cold War.
Putin and Merkel are to discuss economic and political ties as well as the gas crisis, said Russian government spokesman Alexander Smirnov, after Moscow and Kiev traded bitter accusations about who was responsible for the cutoffs.
"There is no doubt that the transit of Russian gas will be discussed since Germany is one of the major recipients of Russian gas and Merkel has been instrumental in efforts to resolve the current problem," Smirnov told AFP.
Smirnov added that the two leaders would discuss the Nord Stream pipeline project, led by Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom, which Moscow has promoted as an alternative to exports through Ukraine.
Baltic Sea states have voiced concern over the environmental impact of the undersea pipeline linking Russia to Germany, planned for completion in 2012. German groups BASF and E.ON hold stakes in the multibillion-dollar project.
In Berlin, German government spokesman Thomas Steig said the Putin-Merkel summit would focus on "current matters in bilateral relations as well as the economy and energy."
Ensuring stable gas deliveries and European energy security will be "at the centre" of the Putin-Merkel talks, said Cornelius Ochmann, a political scientist at the Bertelsmann Foundation.
"Ms. Merkel will certainly remind him of the commitment he made three years ago, when he was president, not to use energy as a political weapon," Ochmann said.
The gas crisis broke out January 1 when Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine's domestic market after the two ex-Soviet neighbours failed to settle a dispute about Kiev's debts to Moscow and gas prices for 2009.
Russia later cut off all gas deliveries to Europe that pass through Ukraine, accusing it of siphoning off gas, a charge Kiev denies. Some 80 percent of Russian gas exports to the EU pass through Ukraine.
Both sides have appealed to the EU for help in resolving the dispute, which has raised alarm in Europe about its dependence on Russian gas.
During his visit to Germany, Putin is also due to visit an environmental exhibition in Berlin before attending a debutantes' ball in his old KGB haunt of Dresden.
The German government said last week that Putin would attend the debutantes' ball on Friday at Dresden's sumptuous Semper Opera House, one of the highlights of the winter social season in Germany.
The formal affair is traditionally opened by a dance of some 90 debutantes and their partners.
Putin worked for the KGB in Dresden, then part of Communist East Germany, from 1985 to 1990. According to former colleagues, his activities included recruiting informants and keeping an eye on the East German authorities.