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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
'Agent' Putin returns to Dresden
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

President Putin
President Putin was a KGB agent in Dresden during the 1980s
In a hundred-year-old villa on the edge of Dresden, manager of the local community centre Kerstin Wechter gives me a tour of the building.

This is no ordinary community centre.

"See those holes in the door frames?" Kerstin says.

"They used to be packed with bugging devices"

We go into the yard and Kerstin opens an outside door.

"This is where the Soviet guards used to sit" she says, pointing to some broken chairs.

Agent Putin

House No.4 on Angelikastrasse was once the Soviet KGB's Dresden HQ.

It was a building where Soviet secret agents used to spy on each other, as well as on the West. And among the officers based here in the 1980s was Agent Vladimir Putin.

This week Mr Putin returned to Dresden - not as a spy, but as president of Russia. Despite his past as a KGB officer, Kerstin says she is pleased by the visit. "Mr Putin's heart beats for Germany," she tells me.

Not everyone agrees.

Russian 'vampire'

On the streets of Dresden I meet human rights campaigners. They are holding a giant portrait of Vladimir Putin, depicting the Russian president as a vampire, sinking his teeth into Russian democracy.

President Putin and Chancellor Merkel
Germany is Russia's most important EU trading partner

They are calling on the German government to put criticism of Putin's Russia, ahead of co-operation.

"Step by step, Vladimir Putin is abolishing democracy and freedom of the press," says Tilman Zulch, who is leading the protest.

"If our country, our businessmen have no intention to change the situation and co-operate with Russia just for profit, that's not enough"

Trading partners

But Germany is co-operating with the Kremlin.

It is Russia's biggest trading partner in the EU; Germany gets more than a third of its gas from Russia and the two countries are working together to build a pipeline that will bring more Russian gas to Western Europe under the Baltic Sea.

Agent Putin's Dresden apartment
Agent Putin lived in an apartment block at 101 Radebergerstrasse

True, Mr Putin's relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel do not seem as cosy as they were with the previous German leader Gerhard Schroeder.

Unlike Mr Schroeder, Mrs Merkel has voiced some criticism of Russia - but not loud enough to cloud the Russian-German relationship.

Foreign policy expert Alexander Rahr believes there is no point criticising Russia - the Kremlin will not listen anyway.

"Harsh criticism didn't work towards China, it won't work with Russia," Alexander Rahr believes.

"It might have worked in the 1990s, but now Russia is different, stronger and more confident. We need a partnership of patience towards Russia. The more we try to force changes on Russia, the more Russia will take a very defensive attitude to the West."

As a spy in Dresden, Vladimir Putin witnessed Russia's weakest moment - the collapse of its empire which had extended right across Eastern Europe.

Today he is the leader of an increasingly powerful and wealthy country which is in no mood to be lectured by the West.


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