Russian President Vladimir Putin is meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel for a two-day round of talks starting on Sunday, Oct. 14. Topics are expected to be energy security, economic questions and the US missile shield.
Chancellor Merkel and President Putin have had more differences of opinion of late
A number of tough global issues will also be on the table at the meeting of the German and Russian leaders in the German city of Wiesbaden. It comes straight after talks in Moscow between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, as well as both countries' defense ministers.
Russia strongly opposes US plans to deploy parts of its anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Moscow says the missiles will target Russia and not "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea, which Washington says the system is designed to defend against.
In rancorous bilateral talks on Friday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected a Russian call to freeze plans to place 10 US interceptor missiles in Poland and a targeting radar station in the Czech Republic by 2010.
A spokesman for the Kremlin on Sunday confirmed that Putin would raise "questions of strategic stability within the context of the US missile shield project" with the chancellor.
Germany has taken a cautious stance on the issue, insisting that NATO should be consulted about US plans and also warning Poland and the Czechs that their going it alone could prove divisive for Europe.
Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, says that he expects Putin to try to play on Germany's "ambivalence" towards the shield.
Putin has threatened to tear up several Cold War-era agreements, including the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty which sets limits on troops, tanks and other hardware across the continent.
Russian presidential spokesman Dimitri Peskov said another priority of the talks would be on "clarifying" Merkel's position on bilateral investment projects, particularly those of Gazprom in Europe.
Despite the smiles, there were gritted teeth on both sides after recent US-Russia talks
"For Putin, the most important thing will be evening the scales with regard to the latest draft of the European Commission in terms of protecting their market from foreign competition," Peskov told the German press agency DPA.
The commission is considering the introduction of a tough reciprocity clause for energy relations with third countries.
"Of course, Russia is looking for equal conditions and fair competition for Russian companies, including Gazprom," Peskov said ahead of the summit.
The talks in Wiesbaden will stretch over two days, with the two leaders participating in a forum on Monday, Oct. 14 that is part of the Petersburg Dialogue, a civil society discussion that was set up by Putin and former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
Kosovo and human rights
Albanians in Kosovo are demanding independence for the province
Kosovo is another delicate issue expected to be raised in Wiesbaden.
Russia has denounced Western support for independence for Kosovo, the ethnic Albanian-led province which has threatened to declare independence unilaterally from Serbia unless the international community comes up with a solution by December 10. Although Berlin has said little officially about the visit, Alexander Rahr, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations told the AFP news agency that he also expected Merkel to raise the issue of freedom of speech in Russia.
Merkel and Putin briefly clashed on the issue during her visit to Russia in May, prompting the Russian president to say that demonstrators "were also arrested in Germany."
Rahr said that two years after she came to office, the difference between Putin's relationship with Merkel and his far closer ties to her predecessor, Schröder, were clear.
"Their relationship is normal without being friendly. She is careful and pragmatic and she never misses an opportunity to say that the United States is more important to her than Russia, although she is not anti-Russian," Rahr told AFP.