Putin, Merkel focus on energy, murdered reporter
10 October 2006, DRESDEN, GERMANY - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday began a visit to Germany which was expected to be dominated by energy security issues, trade and the North Korean nuclear crisis but which was partially overshadowed by the killing of a leading Russian journalist. Rising tensions between Russia and Georgia over Tbilisi's arrest and subsequent expulsion of several alleged Russian spies were also expected to be discussed during Putin's two-day trip. Putin and German Chancellor An
10 October 2006
DRESDEN, GERMANY - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday began a visit to Germany which was expected to be dominated by energy security issues, trade and the North Korean nuclear crisis but which was partially overshadowed by the killing of a leading Russian journalist.
Rising tensions between Russia and Georgia over Tbilisi's arrest and subsequent expulsion of several alleged Russian spies were also expected to be discussed during Putin's two-day trip.
Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were meeting in the former East German city of Dresden where the Russian leader served from 1985 to 1990 as an agent of the former Soviet Union's KGB intelligence service.
Putin, who speaks fluent German, describes visits to Dresden as like "going home." Accompanied by Merkel, he was to attend a meeting of 200 Russian and German academic and political experts and visit the city's "Green Vault" museum housing treasures of the former Saxon royal family.
But whereas Putin forged a close political friendship with former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, talks with Merkel were expected to be tougher than the four previous encounters between both leaders this year.
Merkel, who speaks fluent Russian, has sought to put distance between the Berlin chancellery and the Kremlin and since taking office last year has been far more outspoken on Russian human rights than was Schroeder.
"It's important to have distance ... because Putin has reduced democracy - the opposition parties have been pushed down and there's no free media other than on the internet," said Gasan Gusenynov, of the University of Bremen's East European Institute in an N-TV interview.
A German Foreign ministry spokesman says Merkel's government is "outraged" and "embittered" over the slaying last week of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was a leading critic of the war in Chechnya.
Politkovskaya's funeral in Moscow - which was being held when Putin's plane touched down in Dresden - cast a shadow over the visit and raised pressure on Merkel to pose tough questions over the killing.
Merkel's chief spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, vowed that all Russian internal developments "which raise concerns" would be addressed by the chancellor at the meeting.
The crisis over North Korea's claim to have exploded a nuclear device was also on the agenda, with Merkel expected to query Putin on Moscow's stand over possible United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang.
Russia wields veto power in the UN as a permanent member of the Security Council. So far it is unclear whether Russia and fellow Security Council member China will back tough measures aimed at North Korea.
Away from international crises, the Merkel-Putin meeting would focus on energy issues, officials said.
Germany is a major importer of Russian natural gas and crude oil and its dependency on Moscow is set to rise following completion of a new Baltic Sea gas pipeline direct from Russia to Germany.
A report in Russia's Kommersant newspaper said Putin will propose connecting the Russian and European electricity grids and call on German engineering and energy giants Siemens, RWE and E.ON to carry out a feasibility study.
Klaus Mangold, who heads the influential Federation of German Industry's Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, said Russia would be investing 100 billion dollars in expanding and upgrading its electricity grid and power plants in the five to eight years.
German companies, he predicted in an InfoRadio interview, were likely to scoop between 20 billion and 30 billion dollars' worth of these contracts.
But Mangold warned that the Politkovskaya killing and other similar crimes posed serious problems for Russia.
"This is bad for their image and is therefore bad for getting foreign companies to invest in Russia in any big manner," he said.
Merkel says she will make energy security a top priority during Germany's presidencies of both the European Union and the Group of Eight (G8) club of industrial nations next year.
Energy will also top an EU summit with Putin in Lahti, Finland next week.
Following his meetings in Dresden, President Putin was due to visit Munich on Wednesday.
Subject: German news