Russia's Putin arrives in Germany for economic talks
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday arrived in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he floated a bold idea of a free-trade zone across the European continent.
Ahead of his visit to Germany, Putin, who meets Merkel on Friday, said Russia and Europe could work together to form a free-trade economic zone spanning the entire European continent "from Lisbon to Vladivostok".
Merkel, who developed an agreeable working relationship with Putin, a KGB agent in former East Germany, poured cold water on Putin's idea, not least because of a plan championed by the Russian premier to create a joint customs bloc with ex-Soviet Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"The steps that Russia has taken recently do not point in that direction," Merkel said, referring to his vision of a common economic space.
Putin, writing in a commentary for Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, also criticised the European Union for its efforts to liberalise the gas market and promote competition there.
For all its good intentions, the plan "undermines a desire by investors to commit funds to new projects", Putin said.
Putin on Friday will also address an economic forum and sit down for lunch with German businessmen.
Putin and Merkel are expected to discuss the fate of E.ON Ruhrgas' 4.5-billion-dollar stake in Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer.
Russia's Kommersant newspaper said this week, citing sources, that E.ON Ruhrgas wanted to sell its 3.5-percent stake in the gas giant to Russia's Vnesheconombank, the state economic development bank.
© 2010 AFP