Medvedev on Berlin visit urges NATO to halt expansion

6th June 2008, Comments 0 comments

Russia opposes moves towards NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine.

Berlin -- Russian President Dimitry Medvedev urged NATO not to pursue eastward expansion to the Russian borders in his first major foreign policy address, made to the German-Russian Forum in Berlin.

"I am convinced that our relationship with the alliance would then be harmed in the long term," Medvedev told top business and political leaders.

Russia opposes moves towards NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine.

Observers noted, however, that the strong rhetoric employed by Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, criticizing the United States was absent from the speech.

Medvedev said Russia had left isolation behind and that its open- market economy was a guarantee it would not return to the past. He pledged that Russia would respect international law.

Speaking earlier after a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on his first visit to a European capital since taking office last month, Medvedev stressed the importance of Europe to Russia.

"The European perspective is very important to Russia. The EU is out most important trading partner," Medvedev said.

Talks on a new EU-Russia partnership deal begin in earnest at the EU-Russia summit to be held in Khanty-Mansiisk in Siberia at the end of this month after Poland and Lithuania lifted their objections.

Medvedev and Merkel said they aimed to overcome objections to a planned gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to supply Germany directly.

The Nord Stream pipeline was "of really broad interest, and the objections must be cleared up," Merkel said.

Medvedev said the pipeline, in which Russia's Gazprom has a 51- per-cent stake, would facilitate gas supplies to "the whole European continent" and was on schedule to begin pumping in 2011

Poland, in particular, has expressed concern at being bypassed, fearing for its future energy security.

There have also been objections to the 1,200-kilometre pipeline, from Vyborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany, on environmental grounds from Sweden and other countries.

The two leaders also discussed Russia's legal system, Medvedev acknowledging deficiencies.

"Our legal system is in a phase of development," he said, stressing that reform was a "key priority."

In this regard, they discussed the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, with Medvedev insisting the jailed billionaire should not receive special treatment.

"Pardoning offenders should not be part of negotiations at state level between politicians," Medvedev said. "This is a sovereign decision for every country."

Khodorkovsky was found guilty of fraud in May 2005 and sentenced to 10 years in a judgment many saw as politically motivated.

Apart from talks with Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the 42-year-old Russian leader also met German President Horst Koehler during his eight-hour visit.

Germany is Russia's largest trading partner, with total trade running at 57 billion euros (88 billion dollars) last year, slightly in Russia's favor.

German imports of Russian oil and gas totaled 20.0 billion euros or almost a third of total German gas and oil imports. Germany also imports metals and other raw materials, while Russia imports mainly machinery, vehicles and chemicals.

Some 4,500 German companies have set up shop in Russia, and further direct investment in both directions is set to form a key aspect to the talks in Berlin.

Medvedev stressed the need for more investment. "Nothing brings people closer than doing business together," he said.

While the Berlin visit was the first by the new Russian president to a Western nation, European commentators noted that he had paid visits to China and Kazakhstan after being sworn in on May 7, before turning his attention westwards.


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