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Putin Visits Germany

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a brief visit to Berlin on Thursday to seek wider economic cooperation and closer ties with Germany regardless of who wins the Sept. 18 national election.

First, Putin told a joint news conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that he would support Germany's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

He said "I will support Germany's attempt to gain a seat" in the council.

On bilateral relations, he expressed the belief that Russia and Germany "will maintain good relations" regardless of who holds the position of chancellor.

Putin has developed intimate relationship with Schroeder as he has met the German chancellor 32 times, more than any other Western leader, since he came to power in 2000.

This meeting is very likely to be their last as top German polls show opposition leader Angela Merkel may win the Sept. 18 national election other than Schroeder.

Putin spoke highly of Schroeder, saying that "regardless of whether he maintains his post, I consider him an exceptionally upright person and very responsible."

On his side, Schroeder said he had the luck to find in Vladimir Putin a dialogue partner to whom "I could speak in my own language, who knows Germany and is a friend of German culture".

Led by Putin, Russia has "developed at a breath-taking pace," Schroeder said, adding that Russia and Germany have followed strategic interests in developing the gas pipeline. "I don't see what's wrong with that," he said.

Putin saw the signing of a deal to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany.

The initial pipeline would have a length of 1,200 km, including branches to Finland and Sweden. It would be extended to 2,000 kilometers in the final phase with a branch to Britain via the Netherlands.

The US$2 billion initial phase of the project, which will be built by Russia's OAO Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas company, and Germany's E.ON AG and BASF AG, is expected to raise the amount of natural gas available in Germany by 28 percent.

The deal drew criticism from Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, as Poland hopes a new gas pipeline across its territory.

Putin said he expects agreements soon with Volkswagen AG, Europe's largest carmaker, and Daimler Chrysler, the world's fifth-biggest carmaker, to build production facilities in Russia.

The Russian leader also met privately with Merkel, who has pledged to maintain momentum in expanding German economic ties with Russia if she wins the election.

(Xinhua News Agency September 9, 2005)

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