Russian President Medvedev in Berlin on first European trip

June 5th, 2008 - 10:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Berlin, June 5 (DPA) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paid a one-day visit to Berlin Thursday, choosing the German capital for his first trip to Europe since being sworn in last month. Medvedev, 42, is to make a keenly awaited foreign policy speech at the German-Russian Forum at a Berlin hotel, addressing major international themes.

Apart from talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Russian leader was also to meet Germany’s largely ceremonial president, Horst Koehler.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Merkel highlighted Germany’s position as Russia’s largest trading partner, with total trade running at 57 billion euros ($88 billion) last year.

But she also stressed the difficulties in the political and human rights aspects of relations, noting that Medvedev had referred to “developing and strengthening the rule of law in Russia”, in his inaugural address.

“I see this as a good sign,” Merkel said in her weekly statement issued Saturday.

The thorny issues of Kosovo and Serbia would also come up, the chancellor said. Germany has recognised Kosovo in the face of strong Serbian and Russian objections.

Pending discussions on a new partnership agreement between Russia and the European Union are also to be discussed, after Lithuania and Poland lifted their blocks on talks.

“Cooperation in the area of energy will be of particular significance,” Merkel said.

In 2007, German imports of Russian oil and gas totalled 20.0 billion euros or almost a third of total German gas and oil imports of 61.1 billion euros.

Germany also imports large quantities of metals and other raw materials.

Trade between the two is roughly in balance - the German statistical office valued imports from Russia at 28.8 billion euros, while exports rose 20 percent to 28.2 billion euros.

Russian imports mainly machinery, vehicles and chemicals from Germany.

Some 4,500 German companies have set up shop in Russia, and further direct investment in both directions is set to form a key aspect to the talks in Berlin.

While the Berlin visit was the first by the new Russian president to a Western nation, European commentators noted that he had paid visits to China and Kazakhstan after being sworn in May 7, before turning his attention westwards.

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