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Europe

Putin and Schröder to Seal Gas Deal

Vladimir Putin will announce a major agreement to build a pipeline linking Russia with western Europe when he visits Germany Thursday, just ahead of the German general election.

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For this couple, shared moments as heads of state may soon be over

The timing of the Russian president's brief visit to Berlin is seen by observers as Putin's attempt to boost the flagging re-election campaign of his good friend, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

The agreement for the North European Gas Pipeline was due to be signed in October. But with an election called 12 months early and Schröder's Social Democrats trailing the opposition Christian Democrats in the polls, the meeting was brought forward.

Vladislav Belov, a specialist on Germany at the Russian Academy of Science, said Putin realized this could well be the last time he would see Schröder in office.

Show of support

"Putin is supporting his friend Gerhard even if he understands objectively that he will no longer be either chancellor or vice-chancellor. ... All the signs are that the Schröder era is at an end," Belov said.

Erdgas-Pipeline, Symbolbild

The German-Russian gas deal has circumvented the Ukraine

The pipeline will be built by state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom, together with several German companies. Around 900 kilometers (550 miles) long, it will stretch from near St. Petersburg to the northeastern coast of Germany.

Significantly, it does not pass over Ukraine, upsetting that country and Poland, which receive considerable transit fees from Gazprom for allowing its current pipelines to pass over their territory on their way to the lucrative western European market.

Schröder has pushed for Germany to lessen its dependence on oil and gas from the Gulf and the United States, and 32 percent of Germany's natural gas is currently supplied by Russia. Belov said the pipeline project would "increase the interdependence of the German and Russian economies."

Speaking the same language

While Thursday's visit could see the close of the chapter of warm Schröder-Putin relations, opinion is divided on the future of Russian-German ties should conservative leader Angela Merkel take the mantle of German leadership. Merkel grew up in the former East Germany and speaks Russian, while Putin speaks fluent German after serving with the KGB in Leipzig during the Cold War.

Wahl Fernsehduell Merkel Schröder Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel may strike a different tone with Russia

"Economic links between Russia and Germany will not change under Merkel because the two countries will be trying to fulfil their economic potential," Belov predicted.

Martin Koopmann, an expert with the German society for foreign policy (DGAP), fears troubled times could be ahead. Merkel's Christian Democrats will "keep a certain distance from a Russia which places all its emphasis on power and less on Western-style transparency," he said.

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