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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 15:29 GMT
Putin 'will attend Nato summit'
President Putin addressing the Russian State Council, 8 Feb 08
President Putin is due to step down in March
Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend a Nato summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest in April, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says.

Mr Lavrov said Mr Putin had been invited to attend by the Western military alliance, and had accepted.

The development comes at a time of tense relations between Nato and Russia.

Mr Putin will no longer be Russian president in April. Elections for his successor will be held next month.

"President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to take part," Mr Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Ria during a visit to Switzerland.

"This yet again testifies to the fact that Russia is open to dialogue on any issues," he said.

The Bucharest summit is scheduled for 2-4 April. Nato has yet to confirm the invitation.

'New arms race'

In a nationally-televised speech last week, Mr Putin condemned Nato's eastward expansion and the US plan to include Poland and the Czech Republic in a missile defence shield.

"It is already clear that a new phase in the arms race is unfolding in the world," he said. "It is not our fault, because we did not start it."

In his speech to the State Council - Russia's top politicians, officials and generals - he said other countries were spending far more than Russia on new weapons.

But Russia would always respond to the challenges of a new arms race by developing more hi-tech weaponry, he added.

In December, Russia said it was planning naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It has also resumed long-range patrols by its bomber aircraft.

The practice was suspended after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was revived last August, as part of a more assertive foreign policy pursued by President Putin.

Higher oil prices have enabled Russia to re-invest in its armed forces, but the country's military capabilities remain far below what they were during the Soviet era.

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