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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Putin heads for German summit
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
It will be their 11th meeting since June 2000
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Germany on Tuesday for a summit with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder which is expected to address Soviet-era debt.

The two-day summit in Weimar will also cover the two countries' growing economic ties in general and the two leaders are expected to find common ground on the situation in the Middle East.

I have reasons to believe that in Weimar we will be quite capable of closing the issue [Soviet debt] for good

Vladimir Putin

Mr Putin, who is actively pursuing better ties with western Europe, can count on a warm welcome in Germany.

If the Russian leader has courted controversy with his policies on such internal issues as Chechnya and the media, he is nonetheless something of a star for many Germans.

Mr Putin said on Sunday he believed that a "fundamental decision" could be taken on Russia's Soviet-era debt to the former East Germany.

He suggested that the debt, which has dogged relations for years, may be converted into German shares in Russian industry.

Germany, Russia's main trading partner and biggest foreign investor, is also expected to renew efforts to draw Russia closer towards the European Union, the World Trade Organisation and Nato.

Mr Putin and Mr Schroeder are set to discuss the Middle East, with the Russian leader warning at the weekend that attempts to oust Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could dangerously radicalise Arab opinion.

The two leaders are believed to share a common opposition to military action against Iraq, as now mooted by the US and Britain.

Germany says new attacks must be accompanied by a UN resolution while Mr Putin has called the idea "counterproductive".

Star guest

The elegant old city of Weimar has symbolic value for the summit, being located in the former East Germany.

The BBC's Berlin correspondent, Rob Broomby, reports that one opinion poll here shows Mr Putin is the most popular foreign leader with the German people.

But this is, perhaps, more a reflection of his grasp of the German language than love of his policies.

Mr Putin, who speaks the language fluently since his service as Soviet spy in the late 1980s, scored a diplomatic coup when he addressed the German parliament in its own language last September.

As our correspondent notes, the visit should be something of a charm offensive for the Russian leader.

On Tuesday evening, he appears with Mr Schroeder on a late-night TV talk show whose presenter Alfred Biolek is known for his gentle and intimate style.

Mr Putin's problems in Chechnya, for one thing, are unlikely to feature.

See also:

17 May 01 | Europe
Russia eyes the European family
10 Apr 01 | Europe
Putin reaches out to Europe
07 Jan 01 | Europe
Putin pledges Soviet debt payment
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Germany
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Russia
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