Putin's Berlin Trip Aims to Revive Ties

BERLIN -- The Kremlin is hoping President Vladimir Putin's visit to Germany next week will revive relations after a tough year and a half of differences over debt, Kosovo and Chechnya, its ambassador to Berlin said Wednesday.

Ambassador to Berlin Sergei Krylov said in an interview that relations had cooled under Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who took office soon after the ruble devaluation in August 1998 forced Moscow to default on foreign debts.

Economic relations between Moscow and its biggest creditor and trading partner slowed and they disagreed over sanctions on Iraq, the 1999 war against Yugoslavia, the military action in Chechnya and NATO expansion. Major German projects have also faltered.

"All these issues together led to a distancing between Germany and Russia," Krylov said. "There was a distancing from the warmth, that understanding that existed in the first half of the 1990s before 1998 - in addition to the strong personal relations between Chancellor Kohl and President Yeltsin."

Helmut Kohl lost to Schr?der in 1998 after 16 years in power. Schr?der and his younger, center-leftcoalition team lacked the same experience of dealing with Russia, Krylov said.

"A new generation of politicians arrived with new horizons, without their own historical memory of Europe's difficulties, the threats and mutual fears of the 1950s and 1960s," he said.

Putin, who from 1984 to 1990 worked as a KGB spy in Communist East Germany, makes his first visit as president from June 14 to 16.

"The upcoming Putin visit could be a very serious stage of a new start in our relations," Krylov said. "Of course the base is already more than solid."

Krylov said Putin and Schr?der would discuss tough issues, and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref would hold talks on debt and other issues with German officials. A U.S. plan to build a ballistic missile defense system is also on the agenda.

Putin's extensive background in Germany is a mixed blessing when in comes to improving ties, said Krylov.

"It's easier because he did work in East Germany, knows German, understands German culture," he said. "But it's more difficult because it's not now the same East Germany or Germany overall in which he worked.

"It's also more difficult because when he was here he had one focus, a single mental outlook, with set tasks and possibilities," Krylov said, referring to Putin's spy work.