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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin and Chretien Begin Formal Talks

OTTAWA, Canada - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien get down to formal business Monday with talks focusing on disarmament, development of Arctic expanses and improving paltry trade levels.

Putin, on a three-day visit to Canada, and his host were due to sign a "statement on strategic stability issues" setting down basic security principles as well as accords on developing the two countries' vast polar areas and expanding their commercial air links.

The two men launched their talks informally on Sunday evening at a private dinner organized soon after Putin arrived at the close of a five-day stay in Cuba aimed at restoring close ties with its Soviet-era Caribbean ally.

Talks were expected to dwell on the new U.S. administration of President-elect George W. Bush, particularly on common ground in opposing Bush's proposals to proceed with a national missile defense (NMD) plan.

Both Canada and Russia oppose U.S. proposals to alter the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that Washington says is required in order to push ahead with the system and guard against missile launches by "rogue states" such as North Korea and Iran.

Putin told reporters in Havana that Canada and Russia had points in common -- "economic like exploration in the north, and also political like maintaining the balance of forces and preserving the system of international security which has been created until now."

"Our positions are very close."

Even in the Cold War era, Canada and the Soviet Union enjoyed reasonably good links, thanks in part to late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's efforts to cultivate ties with both Moscow and Havana.

POLICY DIFFERENCES WITH U.S.

Canada, a member of NATO and the G7 group of industrialized countries, has also had periodic, if subtle, policy differences with the United States. But Putin made clear in the run-up to the visit that any agreements should not be directed against Washington.

Before Putin's arrival, commentators suggested Chretien should protest to Putin about the alleged extremes of the Kremlin's military campaign against Chechen separatists.

Canadian officials have said they will raise objections but Western denunciations of Russian actions have become less common and more muted as resistance to the military in Chechnya has become confined to pinprick attacks by rebels.

Jewish groups called for fresh pressure to be exerted on Putin to halt legal proceedings against Vladimir Gusinsky, who heads Russia's top independent media group and is a leader of Russia's Jewish community.

Gusinsky was arrested in Spain last week pending an extradition hearing for him to Russia, where he faces fraud charges which liberals see as an attack on post-Soviet press freedoms.

On trade, deputy Russian Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters after Putin's arrival that both sides were determined to boost this year's projected level of C$1 billion ($600 million), less than the daily level of trade between Moscow and Washington.

Khristenko said trade was diversifying into high-technology goods, away from traditional patterns of Canadian sales of grain and Russian exports of metals.

"The current level does not reflect the possibilities or the similarities between our countries," he said. "Expansion is entirely possible."

He said Russia intended to complain about anti-dumping legal cases initiated by Canada against Russian companies.

Canada was expected during the talks to offer public support for Russia's rapid entry into the World Trade Organization.

Putin flies on to Toronto on Tuesday to persuade top industrialists that Russia is now a safe and reliable place for their investments amid a recovery from the 1998 financial collapse.