Merkel to Be Medvedev's First Foreign Guest

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to be the first foreign leader to meet with President-elect Dmitry Medvedev following his sweeping election victory on Sunday.

Merkel will arrive Saturday for a one-day visit to Moscow, where she will meet separately with outgoing President Vladimir Putin and Medvedev.

"The agenda is the new situation in Russia," said a Merkel spokesman, Rüdiger Petz, who added that the visit came at Putin's invitation.

Merkel's visit will last only a few hours, meaning that she will not have time to meet with other figures, including opposition leaders, Petz said. He added that she would, however, discuss the rule of law and adherence to democratic principles in her meetings with Putin and Medvedev.

In Sunday's presidential election, which independent monitors have said was neither free nor fair, but which did generally reflect the mood of the electorate, Medvedev won just over 70 percent of the vote.

Merkel sent congratulations on the win to Medvedev on Monday, in a message that also urged him to make good on promises to "focus on the rule of law, social issues and a strong economy."

Merkel's spokesman, Thomas Steg, told reporters in Berlin on Monday that the fact that democratic principles were not always followed raised questions about his campaign.

Russian officials, including Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, on Tuesday said Merkel's visit has been in the works for a long time.

Peskov chalked up the fact that Merkel would be the first foreign leader to meet with Putin and Medvedev after the vote to Germany's status as Russia's key economic and trading partner and its influence in European affairs.

Andreas Brecher, another Merkel spokesman, said by phone from Berlin that the timing of the trip was a "good sign" for the future of bilateral relations.

Russian and German officials will discuss the entire spectrum of bilateral ties, including economic cooperation and energy, Petz said. Peskov characterized the agenda as "comprehensive."

A Russian Foreign Ministry official familiar with the preparations for the visit said the presidential election campaign got in the way of regular meetings and exchanges, so the leaders on both sides agreed they would meet soon after the March 2 vote.

"Russian-German relations are distinguished by very regular political dialogue at the highest level," he added, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. Another Foreign Ministry official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the invitation to Merkel was extended late last year.

Germany was the European country most often visited by Putin during his eight years in office, and particularly while his close personal friend Gerhard Schröder was still in power. Putin's first foreign trip after being re-elected in 2004 was to Hannover to celebrate Schröder's 60th birthday.

Analysts said Merkel would likely try to strike a balance in the visit between establishing a good working relationship with Medvedev, who struck a more liberal pose than his predecessor during the presidential campaign, and letting the Kremlin know the West saw the vote as a departure from democratic principles.

"It is, of course, a symbolic gesture," Rainer Lindner, a senior associate and Russia expert at the German Institute for Foreign and Security Affairs, a think tank linked to the German government, said of the visit.

"Germany welcomes Medvedev's election, but it doesn't welcome how it was done," he added.

Lindner said the 42-year-old Medvedev was the first Russian leader whose adult experience was mostly post-Soviet, adding that the age difference with Putin, who is 55, would probably make the president-elect more liberal-minded than his mentor.

For Merkel, Saturday's trip will be a reconnaissance visit of sorts, during which she will want to see what "the alignment of forces in this two-headed system" will be like, said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

As president, Medvedev has said he will oversee foreign policy, while Putin, who will become prime minister, will handle economic policy and other issues.

Merkel's visit will fall on March 8th, the date the German socialist activist Clara Zetkin proposed in 1910 to mark as International Women's Day.

Peskov, when asked whether Merkel will receive flowers from her hosts, laughed, saying he did not know, but would not rule it out.

Staff Writer Nikolaus von Twickel contributed to this report.