Merkel and Putin reaffirm bilateral ties in Moscow

16th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

16 January 2006, MOSCOW - German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her inaugural visit to Russia Monday, meeting President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin for broad talks and an evaluation of close bilateral relations forged by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.

16 January 2006

MOSCOW - German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her inaugural visit to Russia Monday, meeting President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin for broad talks and an evaluation of close bilateral relations forged by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Putin opened the consultations by underscoring Russia's intent to nurture the ties regardless of Germany's change of leadership late last year.

"I would like to note that over this time we have not altered our position in the slightest," he told Merkel.

The chancellor in turn recalled talks with the Russian leader in Berlin in September before she took the helm from Schroeder.

"I think that we then created a good basis on which to further develop our partnership," she said.

Merkel also praised a "breathtaking increase" in bilateral trade, with the volume growing last year by 30 per cent to a record level of 32 billion U.S. dollars (26.6 billion euros).

In comments before her one-day trip, the head of Germany's new grand coalition government, however, said she is aiming for a strategic partnership with Russia, whereby critical issues must also be raised.

Topics Monday included western concerns over Iran's nuclear programme, developments in the Middle East and the Balkans, Russia's G8 presidency in 2006 and the situation in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said energy was another important theme, with emphasis on the construction of a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany, Russia's largest customer for natural gas.

Merkel told journalists accompanying her that the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia was another focus. Russia this year adopted a controversial new law that regulates and restricts the operation of its more than 350,000 NGOs and public associations.

The Russian human rights organization Memorial praised the chancellor for her willingness to raise issues that Schroeder was much less inclined to broach.

"The state of human rights and democratic freedoms should play an important role in bilateral relations," Memorial chairman Arseny Roginsky told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Merkel's trip to Moscow was the last of a series of inaugural visits. Last week she met in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Before leaving Russia in the evening, the chancellor was also scheduled to meet with parliamentarians, NGO representatives and cultural figures.

While protocol required that she and Putin spoke through an interpreter, the leaders were anticipated to exchange pleasantries in the opposite language.

Putin mastered German while serving in Dresden as an officer of the Soviet KGB, while Merkel, a pastor's daughter, learned Russian while growing up in the former East Germany.

But it remains to be seen whether the leaders can cultivate a relationship as productive as the Putin-Schroeder friendship, which saw the men and their spouses marking birthdays and other occasions together.

As well as booming economic cooperation, historical animosities between Russia and Germany also receded firmly during Schroeder's watch.

In a survey of 1,500 Russians in late 2004, respondents tended to name Germany as their country's closest ally.

DPA

Subject: German news

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