Questions Await Medvedev In Berlin

President Dmitry Medvedev will make a lightening visit to Berlin on Thursday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel that promise to focus on rule of law back at home.

The trip, Medvedev's first to the West since his inauguration, will be scrutinized as an indicator of how much foreign policy clout is left in the Kremlin after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's accession to what is being perceived as the country's most powerful premiership.

Medvedev is scheduled to hold about two hours of talks with Merkel. He will also meet German President Horst KЪhler and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, according to the German government's web site.

In addition, he will address a gathering of 1,000 investors and lawmakers and lay a wreath at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin's eastern Treptow district before returning to Moscow in the evening.

Reporters will have a chance to quiz Medvedev at a news conference after the talks with Merkel.

The Kremlin had not released any details on the program by Tuesday, and a spokeswoman reached by telephone declined to give any information.

A test case for investors' hopes that Medvedev will make real strides toward embracing the rule of law could be the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence on tax and fraud charges that he calls politically motivated.

Steinmeier met a lawyer for Khodorkovsky in St. Petersburg last month. News reports about the meeting, which happened at the German minister's initiative, were leaked in Berlin last weekend.

The lawyer, Yury Shmidt, said in an interview Tuesday that he hoped Merkel and Steinmeier would raise Khodorkovsky's case with Medvedev. "I have real hopes about Medvedev because he raised the right issues about independent courts," Shmidt said.

Medvedev has issued several calls to crack down on the country's "legal nihilism."

Shmidt said he and Steinmeier had discussed all legal aspects for a possible release of Khodorkovsky. "We talked for 1 1/2 hours," he said. He added that Steinmeier said little "because he is a diplomat and weighs his words with care."

He said earlier media reports about the meeting incorrectly said the talks took place in Moscow and had concerned Khodorkovsky being transferred from his prison in the Zabaikalsky region to Moscow.

Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters in Berlin that the chancellor would speak about Medvedev's vows to reform the judicial system, the human rights situation and press freedoms," Reuters reported.

Asked whether she would speak about Khodorkovsky, a spokesman for Merkel reached by telephone Tuesday merely said the chancellor regularly raises human rights issues.

Merkel has said that she wants the talks with Medvedev to focus on energy issues and on relations with the European Union, as well as on Kosovo and the future of Serbia.

Medvedev has called relations with Germany "privileged," and Merkel was the first Western leader to visit him after his election in March. Steinmeier was his first foreign visitor after his inauguration on May 7.

But Medvedev chose Kazakhstan and China for his first trip abroad and has said that ties with other former Soviet republics would be a priority of his presidency. The trip to Berlin has been seen as an attempt to balance Russia's Eastern and Western interests.

Putin visited Paris last Thursday for high-profile talks that focused on European relations and have been described as "presidential" by the national media.

While Putin's trip lasted two days, Medvedev's schedule covers barely eight hours.

Bertrand Malmendier, head of the Center for Social Conservative Policy, a think tank set up in Berlin by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said the length of Medvedev's visit should not be overestimated.

"What counts is the level of talks," he said by telephone. He added that there are many other contacts between Berlin and Moscow.

Malmendier also dismissed the notion that Medvedev was the No. 2 after Putin in terms of international influence. "You must understand both as a team and see the government as a whole," he said.

Gert Weisskirchen, a Social Democratic lawmaker in the Bundestag, said it was much too early to judge Medvedev but that he did not believe that the president was a lame duck under a powerful Prime Minister Putin.

"The task for the Russian leadership is so gigantic that it makes sense to share the work between these two great statesmen," Weisskirchen said by telephone from Berlin.

He also said he had high hopes for Medvedev because of his promises on judicial reforms. "[Medvedev] has said that he would focus on the rule of law, and this is a fundamental ingredient to democratization," he said.

He said Germany could provide Russia with a wealth of impetus for reform. He picked out local government as an example, saying Russia could focus on giving municipalities more powers versus the regions and the centralized federal government.

"Thus the rule of law can be strengthened at the local level," he said.

On Thursday, Medvedev will also give a speech to an expected crowd of 1,000 people in Berlin's Intercontinental Hotel, said Oliver Wieck, director of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, an influential organization set up by German business associations, which co-hosts the event with other nongovernmental organizations.

Wieck said interest from German investors was high. "We are seeing more and more sectors entering the field, like electronics, manufacturing systems engineering, medical equipment and food," he said.

Germany is the country's leading trade partner, with an annual turnover of $53 billion. More than 17 percent of foreign investment comes from Germany.

Wieck said investors' enthusiasm was justified because of the planned start of talks on a new cooperation agreement with the EU and talks on Moscow's accession to the World Trade Organization. "This will help to further integrate the economy," he said.

The negotiations on the new cooperation treaty are scheduled to begin at the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiisk late this month.

Wieck said that if Russia gained both WTO membership and a new cooperation treaty with Brussels, then there would be a good chance for the country to establish a free trade zone with the EU. "This would greatly benefit our economy," he said.

Wieck noted that Medvedev was well known to key German business leaders, in part because he had visited the Hanover trade fair in 2006.

'What we think is an important and good signal is the fact that he has singled out judicial reforms to top his agenda," Wieck said. "The rule of law and independent courts are very important for us."