Putin is more than just PM – French diplomat

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is in Paris on a two-day visit. During his first foreign trip as PM he has met his French counterpart, Francois Fillon and President Nicolas Sarkozy. Political commentators have predicted that Putin will continue to s

After their meeting, Fillon and Putin held a joint news conference. Putin told journalists that the two countries have agreed that France will work with Russia to ensure the earliest possible launch of talks on a partnership deal between Russia and the European Union.

“In a month, France will become chair of the European Union, and we have agreed that together we will do our best to start talks on a fundamental agreement between Russia and the EU as soon as possible. Mr Fillon and I discussed this issue thoroughly today,” Putin said after the meeting.

Among other issues, Putin pointed out that Russia is prepared to allow European companies to buy controlling interest in Russian electricity-generating companies in the course of reforming Russian national electricity company UES.

All these issues are expected to be discussed later in Moscow in the framework of the session of the Russian-French Bilateral Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation, which will be attended by the French Prime Minister.

International issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme, Kosovo and the deployment of the U.S. anti-missile defence system in Europe are on the agenda of Putin’s visit.

Observers expect Putin, with his long experience on the world stage, to exert far more weight in the foreign policy than previous Russian prime ministers.

Russia’s business daily, Kommersant, wrote on Thursday that “the tradition of settling the major foreign policy issues by Vladimir Putin together with heads of states may continue under the new President Medvedev. And Putin’s moving to the White House seems no obstacle to this.”

The newspaper also quoted a source in French diplomatic circles as saying “Everyone knows he's not just a prime minister”.

On Friday, Putin is expected to visit the writer Maurice Druon. After that, the PM will visit a museum of the Cossack Life-Guard regiment.