Gernot Erler, Russian affairs experts in Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party, said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's readiness to cooperate with the European Union on Chechnya has raised hopes for a peaceful end to the crisis there. Putin said for the first time that he would entertain "greater German and European Union involvement in resolving the Chechen problem" and was "ready to talk in a deeper manner," Erler told news agency AFP. The Kremlin leader's remarks came during a two-day visit to Germany early this week that involved several rounds of talks with Schröder, a close friend of Putin. Erler said that the EU could, in the long term, set up a "stability pact" for the seven republics in the Russian Caucasus based on a model that has been successfully used in the Balkans over the last five years. "We want to exploit that experience and so, indirectly, provide help in resolving the Chechen problem," Erler said.