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8 Mar, 2008 18:27

Putin warns West: Medvedev is no soft touch

Outgoing President Vladimir Putin has warned the West that relations with Russia will be no easier under his successor, Dmitry Medvedev. The comment came after a meeting with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Moscow. Merkel has also met Medvedev.

The German leader arrived on Saturday for a one-day visit.  

Putin met with Angela Merkel in his presidential residence outside Moscow.

Speaking about the controversial issue of Kosovo, the Russian leader said an option in which Russia can accept the region’s independence exists, “but it lies strictly within international law”.  

“One doesn’t need to be an expert to know that to recognise the territory of a sovereign state as independent we need negotiations. And we need all the parties taking part in the negotiations to reach an agreement. In this particular case we need Serbia’s agreement. If such a compromise is found, then without doubt, we will accept it,” Putin said.   

Merkel, however, said Germany’s opinion on Kosovo is different.

“After the G8 summit in Heiligendamm we tried to bring the sides to the negotiating table. Although we failed to reach a common result the work done was important. Germany decided to recognise Kosovo's independence. We interpret UN resolution 1244 in a different way. The discussions on Kosovo will continue as not all differences have been tackled,” she said.
As for the issue of NATO expansion, which was also raised during the meeting, Putin said:

“We believe that the endless expansion of a military bloc in modern reality, when there is no confrontation between warring systems is not only pointless but also harmful and counterproductive. It seems there are attempts to create an organisation to substitute the United Nations.”
The Russian President remains optimistic about the state of Russo-German relations. “In the last six years, trade turnover between Russia and Germany has increased three-and-a-half times, reaching more than $US 50 billion. Relations in the humanitarian and cultural spheres have been developing as well. We have regular political contact at all levels,” he said.

“I think that relations between Germany and Russia are very close,” Angela Merkel said, echoing Putin.

The Russian leader expressed hope that it was not his last meeting with the German chancellor.

“But of course it is the last one in my current position,” he noted.

Later on Saturday Angela Merkel met president-elect Dmitry Medvedev.

She said Medvedev is very welcome to visit Germany. “We want to continue our co-operation and our open and honest dialogue as we have so much to share,” Merkel said.

Meanwhile Putin warned that his successor would be far from an easy touch.

“Dmitry Medvedev will be free from the necessity to prove his liberal views. But he is no less a Russian nationalist – in a good sense – than I am . I don’t think our partners will find it easier to deal with him. Definitely, he is very patriotic and will defend the interests of the Russian Federation at international level in a most active way,” he stressed.
During her meeting with Medvedev, Angela Merkel noted,

“President Putin has just told us that it’s not going to be easier for us to work with you than it was with him. But I controlled myself and didn’t say that I hoped it would not be more difficult than with him.”

Russian-German relations

Russia’s and Germany’s leaders have met on many occasions in recent years. There was widespread expectation that relations between the two nations would worsen at the beginning of Chancellor Merkel’s term, but this deterioration failed to materialise. In fact, ties strengthened.

Perhaps it’s due to a common language. President Putin and Chancellor Merkel are often seen speaking casually at official events.

But the real reason Germany has become Russia's number one European partner is that the two need each other.

Michael Harms, head of the Delegation of German Economics in Russia, has no doubt that the basis of this mutual need is trade.

“In my view the most positive thing in German-Russian relations is economics. We are satisfied with this development over the past couple of years. We have seen double digit growth rate,” he said.

Germany exports almost as much to Russia as it does to China, and is one of the largest investors in a country people used to fear putting money into. It is also one of Russia's best energy customers.

Aleksander Rahr, a political analyst told RT he sees Merkel's visit to Moscow as an expression of Germany's desire to serve as a link between Russia and the West.

He also said that even though the dialogue between Berlin and Moscow is continuing, it’s not the same as it was before.

“There’s a lot of mistrust over Russia as some Germans think it is using oil and gas as an instrument for pressuris ing the EU. And the Germans are more and more afraid of Russia’s economic expansion. The relations are now at a difficult point,” he said.

Energy ties

The countries are now working on launching the Nord Stream pipeline.

But the partnership has seen difficulties as Berlin has been critical of Moscow when it comes to price disputes with transfer states like Ukraine, which have threatened to freeze the flow of gas.

“I think these problems have been blown up by the media,” Harms said.

But it’s not just energy and economics holding the friendship together. Germany and Russia have found common ground on a number of international issues.

“The trust between our governments has also risen over the years. We agree with Russia on world politics, including the role of Iran and international security,” Harms added.

Medvedev's role

But the question is whether this partnership continues when the man who’s been responsible for at least half of it steps down.

“We very much like his [Medvedev’s] emphasis on the free market and his liberal approach to all economic questions and I think if he can realise this, it will be positive for German-Russian relations,” Harms said.

The world is waiting to see in which direction Dmitry Medvedev will take Russia. Some think he’ll continue Putin’s foreign policy, while others are waiting for something fresh.