German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev join a bilateral forum underway in St. Petersburg on Thursday, but will it be "business as usual" for the two partners?
The talks will be aimed at keeping bilateral trade flowing
The St. Petersburg Dialogue is a key annual event where Russian and German business leaders and politicians meet to discuss partnerships and trade ties. This year, however, all eyes will be on the leaders of the two nations as they join the forum, to see how they interact in the wake of the recent war in Georgia.
Merkel had joined a host of Western critics who said the war had made normal dealings with Russia impossible, and called for ties to be reviewed.
Still, she has backed a deal negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, under which Russia agreed to pull out of undisputed Georgian territories by Oct. 10 once EU monitors had been deployed in the region. And despite her condemnation of Russia's actions in Georgia, she has distinguished herself among her EU counterparts by insisting the lines of communication with Moscow remain open.
Thursday's talks with Medvedev are expected to touch on the EU monitoring mission in "buffer zones" around South Ossetia and fellow rebel enclave Abkhazia.
Germany and Russia have enjoyed close relations in the past
But according to Kremlin sources, the Russian leader is also expected to show that his country has not been isolated in Europe by focusing on developing further political and economic ties, including the ambitious North Stream project -- a gas pipeline to deliver gas from Siberia to Europe beneath the Baltic Sea.
Germany is Russia's single biggest trading partner with bilateral turnover set to reach 43 billion euros ($60 billion) this year. Some 4,600 German firms have subsidiaries in Russia and every fourth machine imported by Russia is made in Germany.
"The meeting is aimed at confirming the stability and maturity of the Russian-German partnership free from political fluctuations," a Kremlin source told reporters ahead of the forum.
Council of Europe keeps dialogue open
Russia still could face consequences in Europe for its actions in August during the conflict with Georgia. On Wednesday, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis said the organization would examine allegations of human rights violations during the war.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had received "more than 1,700 complaints" from the region, he added.
Court officials told news agency AFP that the vast majority of the complaints had been made by South Ossetians against Georgia. Diplomats in Strasbourg added that it was possible the complaints were part of an orchestrated campaign against Tbilisi.
However, the Council of Europe, which is not related to the European Union, voted against withdrawing Russia's voting rights after a request to do so by two dozen members. Swiss member Andreas Gross said the vote signified willingness to maintain "dialogue between us and the two countries."
A Council report published on Monday found both Moscow and Tbilisi were responsible for the conflict's escalation into "open and fully-fledged warfare."