Putin, Schröder to Discuss Russia's Role in Europe

BERLIN -- President Vladimir Putin will use a summit with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder next week to stress Russia's needs as the European Union and NATO expand toward its borders, the Russian ambassador said Thursday.

"Very fast and complex changes on a new European structure are under way," Sergei Krylov, Russia's ambassador to Germany, said in an interview.

"The NATO Prague summit is coming up at which serious decisions will be taken. A completely new configuration of the European Union is taking shape; new elements of common defense and security are being added," he said.

"Naturally all of these processes are important for Russia as well," he said. "That's why they will probably focus more attention on this than in previous meetings."

Schröder will host Putin on Tuesday and Wednesday in Weimar. In parallel, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and other leading Russians and Germans will meet in an unofficial forum called the Petersburg Dialogue.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin cancelled a scheduled appearance at the forum, the Russian Embassy said.

Among other things, Moscow wants a stronger voice in the NATO military alliance and a say in decision-making on specific security issues.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recently called Germany Moscow's most important partner as it seeks to cement new future ties with Europe and called Russia "an indivisible part of the future, unified European architecture."

Putin has visited Germany several times as president, most recently in December when he dropped by at Schröder's house during a quick stop en route from Greece.

"They have good personal relations. If that were not the case, it is unlikely that Schröder would have invited Putin into his home," Krylov said.

In September, Putin impressed many by addressing the parliament in Berlin in fluent German honed while he was a KGB spy in Dresden in former East Germany in the 1980s.

German business, however, has been cautious about embracing opportunities in Russia, even though trade volume is up sharply over the past two years.

"We still need some time, perhaps two or three years, before German business feels more sure about the Russian market," Krylov said.

He said improved diplomacy in recent years had also helped heal some of the bitter wounds of World War II.

"One of the biggest changes that has occurred in recent years is a historical reconciliation between the countries and people," the ambassador said. "No one has forgotten about the past; this would not be possible, and people should not forget about the past. But the past should not brake progress in the future."