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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 17:48 GMT
Russia and Poland hail new relations
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski
The presidents said their talks had "no taboos"
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, have pledged to put behind them a decade of frosty relations between the two countries, and to forge closer links for the future.

We view this visit as a milestone in relations between our countries

Vladimir Putin
"The difficult period of the 1990s is now behind us," Mr Kwasniewski said after a first round of talks in Warsaw.

President Putin, who is the first Russian leader to visit Poland since 1993, called his trip "a milestone in relations" between the two countries.

"Today we have good possibilities to expand our political contacts. What I find particularly attractive is the chance to have an open discussion. There are no taboos," he said.

We will not turn our back on our eastern neighbours

Aleksander Kwasniewski

President Putin said Moscow wanted to work constructively with Nato, and he was looking forward to Poland's entry into the European Union.

However, he urged Mr Kwasniewski to find a quick solution to the status of Russia's Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic, which could become boxed in after the EU's expansion in 2004.

Mr Putin's two-day visit is aimed at improving relations between the two former eastern bloc allies, which deteriorated sharply over Poland's decision to join Nato in 1999.

Cold spell

Moscow was furious when Poland joined the western military alliance, along with former Warsaw Pact allies Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Aleksander Kwasniewski
Kwasniewski called Putin an excellent partner
Warsaw and Moscow expelled diplomats accused of spying, and high-level contacts all but ceased.

While in Poland, Mr Putin is also to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but will not visit a more sensitive monument linked to the 1944 Warsaw uprising against the Nazis, which Soviet troops are accused of deliberately failing to assist.

But Mr Putin ruled out any financial compensation for Polish victims of Stalinist repression, after the Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland in 1939.

However, he suggested Poles could seek rehabilitation under the Russian law.

"We can not compare problems linked to Hitler's Germany and those linked to the Stalinist system of repression. But, of course, we do not want to close our eyes to the negative side of the Stalinist regime," he said.

Economic relations

Economic issues are also high on the agenda for Mr Putin's visit.

The two sides are reviewing their energy-supply contracts in light of Russia's plans for a second natural gas pipeline across Poland to the West.

Mr Putin is due to travel to the western city of Poznan on Thursday to attend a Polish-Russian business forum.

Poland, which depends heavily on Russian gas and oil, is hoping to boost exports to its larger neighbour, currently at 60% of the level before the Russian financial crisis and rouble devaluation in 1998.

The BBC's Nicholas Walton
"Mr Putin's visit is seen as confirmation of Polands new direction"
See also:

03 Sep 00 | Europe
Stalin's Polish victims mourned
21 Jan 00 | Europe
Moscow expels Polish diplomats
13 Mar 99 | Europe
Nato's brothers in arms
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