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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
Putin-Schroeder talks focus on debt
Russian President Vladimir Putin (l) and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
The two leaders met six times last year alone
Russian President Vladimir Putin has opened two days of talks in Germany with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, hopeful that they can close a dispute over Soviet-era debt.

Mr Putin also wants to move closer to Nato, but warned European nations to treat Russia fairly as a partner if they did not want to build new barriers.

Mr Schroeder welcomed Mr Putin in front of a military band and more than 1,000 onlookers in the eastern city of Weimar.

If Europe were to treat Russia as a foreign body, that would build up barriers

Russian President Vladimir Putin
The two leaders had brief opening talks before visiting a German-Russian discussion forum co-chaired by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Mr Putin's goal is to bury a dispute over debts to the former East Germany of 5.5 billion transferable roubles - an accounting unit that was used in the Soviet bloc's trade accounts.

Germany and Russia have argued for years over what exchange rate to apply, with Germany seeking $1.2bn and Russia arguing for $800m.

'Trusted ally'

German officials have been more cautious as to whether an agreement could be reached this week.

Mr Putin called Germany the "most trusted Western ally" of Russia, while also showing how the two countries were dependent upon each other.

Ethnic Chechen Hampascha Irashanov, who lives in Germany, holds a poster demanding Mr Putin stop the genocide of Chechens
An ethnic Chechen German resident demanded Mr Putin stop "genocide" in Chechnya
If it was an equal, Russia, rich in oil and gas, could help assure the stability of energy prices in Europe and thus have a stabilising effect on the wider economy, he said.

"I want to emphasise that even in the most dramatic period of history, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia did not fail to fulfil its obligations in the field of energy," he told the Russian-German forum.

"Today Germany receives a great amount of its energy from Russia, a third of its gas, a quarter of its oil."

Mr Putin is also keen to have stronger ties with the European Union and Nato, but he sounded a warning note.

"If Europe were to treat Russia as a foreign body, that would build up barriers," he said.

Close rapport

Mr Putin called for Russia to be allowed to help make and enforce decisions by Nato, though Russian officials say they do not want to meddle with military policy decisions.

Chancellor Schroeder said giving Russia a say in some decisions was "a justified expectation" before taking his guest to a traditional German meal including blood sausage, suckling pig and baked apple.

Mr Putin has developed a close rapport with Mr Schroeder whom he met six times last year alone.

Their talks - this week as part of annual German-Russian consultations - are unencumbered by translators, thanks to the Russian leader's German acquired when he was a KGB agent in the former East Germany.

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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