Russian President Putin arrived in Germany Sunday to open the Hanover trade fair along with ally Schröder. Human rights groups have however warned the chancellor not to play down Putin's policies in Chechnya.
Human rights groups don't want friendship to get in the way of reality
Amid tight security, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder jointly opened the Hanover industrial trade fair, the largest of its kind in the world. Over 6,000 exhibitors from 65 countries -- 1,000 more than last year -- are displaying their products this year.
As the partner country of this year's fair, Russia is to take center stage as it attempts to lure investors in Germany. The show is also hoped to boost Germany's floundering economy and provide a fresh impetus to the key industry of machine manufacturing. "I am looking forward to our meeting in Hanover which will undoubtedly lead to the further development of the Russian-German partnership," Putin told Schröder by telephone this week.
Russian president Wladimir Putin, left with German chancellor Gerhard Schröder
Schröder maintains a close friendship with Putin, and recently underlined the importance of ensuring Russia is involved in Europe's planning. "Without a genuine strategic partnership with Russia, there will not be peace and sustainable economic development for us Europeans," the chancellor said.
Human rights group to stage vigil
But, the visit is unlikely to be entirely free of controversy. Putin is accompanied by the pro-Moscow president of the breakaway region of Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov and deputy Ramsan Kayrow.
Human rights activists in Germany are using the occasion to stage a vigil in Hanover outside the trade fair grounds to protest against Alkhanov's visit. The Society for Endangered People has accused the Chechnyan politician of grave human rights violations and said he is responsible for the torture and murder of his fellow countryman.
Demonstrators protest against Putin's Chechnya policies and his visit in Hamburg in Dec. 2004.
Human rights organization Amnesty International too has urged German Chancellor Schröder not to play down Russian President Putin's human rights and Chechnya policies during his visit. The organization said in a statement that the human rights situation in Chechnya remained unchanged and bad.
EU aid to victims of Chechnyan conflict
Alkhanov it is reported will use the trip to meet representatives of German humanitarian organizations about what they can do towards rebuilding war-shattered Chechnya within the framework of EU reconstruction efforts. The idea of involving the German humanitarian organizations was raised during Putin's visit to Germany in December.
The European Union's executive commission announced on Thursday it was giving 22.5 million euros ($29.1 million)in aid to victims of the conflict in Chechnya where separatists and Islamic militants have been fighting pro-Russian forces in Chechnya for more than five years.
The funds, the first to be made available this year, come on top of 148 million euros already handed out by Brussels' humanitarian aid agency Echo since the beginning of the conflict in 1999.
Ties between Moscow and Brussels have long been strained over what the EU sees as human rights abuses by the Russian army as it tries to regain control over rebel Chechnya.
EU Mission to Chechnya
On Monday, the European Union is to send a team to Chechnya to look at ways of giving economic and reconstruction aid, the first time the bloc has tried to give such help there. The team would also visit the neighboring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
The team of around 10 officials from Brussels and the Commission's Moscow office will be in the region from April 9 to 16, and will visit the health, education and economy ministries in each of the three republics.
"The aim is to clarify the most pressing needs and identify workable options for an EU contribution," the EU's executive commission said in a statement. "The Commission is already the largest international donor of humanitarian assistance in the region, and this mission will look into how EU aid can now be extended into broader recovery activities."