Russia's Medvedev in Berlin on First European Trip as President

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Germany Thursday on his first European trip as head of state, with Berlin hopeful for better relations.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on June 5, 2008 at the Chancellery in Berlin.

Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Mevedev with military honours, ahead of planned meetings with President Horst Koehler and business leaders.

The Russian leader was also due to hold a major foreign policy speech before returning home in the evening.

A Kremlin source said Medvedev wanted to find common ground with Germany on thorny issues including the expansion of NATO to Russia's borders, the status of Kosovo and Iran's nuclear programme.

"In light of the growing negative trends in international affairs, frank dialogue between Russia and Germany is very useful and will continue on a wide spectrum of subjects," he said.

"The two countries' common interests are much greater than their differences. The unique nature of the Russian-German relationship has the capacity to find a compromise and surmount the problems that arise."

There was friction between Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker who grew up in communist East Germany, and Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent in Dresden, due to her outspoken criticism of alleged human rights violations in Russia and growing authoritarianism.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said Merkel would be no less direct with the new president but was encouraged by a few initial statements Medvedev had made, such as his plans for judicial reforms.

"We will debate intensively, as we did with his predecessor President Putin, which further possibilities we both see for moving these international problems toward a resolution," he said.

"Moreover we have very intensive and steadily growing economic cooperation, not only in the area of energy but also in a range of other sectors, that we want to develop further."

Germany is anxious to see whether Medvedev will chart a more moderate course and Berlin wants to expand trade with the oil- and gas-rich nation while ensuring energy supplies, which make up 70 percent of German imports from Russia.

In 2007, Russian oil and gas imports cost Germany around 20 billion euros (31 billion dollars), official data showed Wednesday, making up the vast majority of total imports which had a value of 28.8 billion euros.

German exports meanwhile were slightly lower at 28.2 billion euros, for the most part machine tools, power equipment and chemical products.

Exports to Russia grew by 20.6 percent last year compared with the figure for 2006, and trade between the two powerhouses has continued to expand this year.

The German press said Berlin should at first give Medvedev the benefit of the doubt.

"Germany should do everything it can to get further positive signals from Moscow," the centre-left daily Der Tagesspiegel wrote in an editorial.

"It is high time the bilateral relationship was redefined, to focus on what the two countries want to achieve together in future. Let's take Medvedev at his word."

A week after his May 7 inauguration, Medvedev underlined the importance of a strategic partnership between Russia and Germany -- Europe's biggest economy -- when he announced the trip to Berlin.

Merkel visited Medvedev in Moscow after his victory in presidential elections in March and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the first foreign dignitary received by the new president after he took office.

Last week she called for greater cooperation and dialogue between NATO and Moscow, citing the conflict over US plans for a missile defence shield in eastern Europe as just one area where talks were needed.

"For the first time in years we had a Russia-NATO summit (in Bucharest in April). If we don't talk to each other it is no wonder when there are prejudices," Merkel said at NATO's spring parliamentary assembly in Berlin.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported Monday that Steinmeier was pleading for Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be moved to Moscow from his prison in the far-eastern Chita region.

Formerly Russia's richest man and Yukos chief executive, Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year jail term for fraud and tax evasion in a case seen by critics as politically tainted.

Other news