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8 Mar, 2008 19:49

Putin warns West: Medvedev won't be a pushover

President Putin has told the West not to expect an easy ride from his successor Dmitry Medvedev. He made the comments during German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Moscow on Saturday.

The German leader arrived on Saturday for a one-day visit. She met the outgoing Russian president at his official residence outside Moscow.

They discussed a range of topics, including Kosovo, NATO expansion and Russo-German relations.

Speaking about the controversial issue of Kosovo, Putin said an option existed in which Russia could accept the region’s independence, “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 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.”

Human rights
Questions on democracy and human rights are traditional at such meetings. This time one of the questions was about Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The businessman and former boss of the Yukos oil company was sentenced to eight years in prison on a number of charges, including money laundering and tax evasion.
At the media briefing journalists asked whether he might be pardoned by the next President.
“If we assume that the procedure required by the Russian legislation is preserved, the possibility of pardoning rests within the competence of the Russian president,” Putin answered.
Economic ties
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.
Looking ahead

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.”

Despite seeing the funny side of the remark, Medvedev didn’t make any promises.
“I am sure that this is the way it will be – there will be both the sincerity and the friendliness that have always bound our countries together and that have always been a feature of your relations with President Putin,” Medvedev said.

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. Some Germans think it is using oil and gas as an instrument for pressurising 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.