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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Says Gusinsky Arrest 'Excessive'

BERLIN -- President Vladimir Putin said Thursday in Germany he thought prosecutors in Moscow had gone "too far" in arresting jailed media boss Vladimir Gusinsky.

"I personally believe that this is excessive. It would have been possible to insist he not leave the country but I can't prevent it," Putin said.

The president has stressed that as president he cannot influence the work of the Prosecutor General's Office.

"I think it should have been possible to handle this without an arrest," he said, adding that Gusinsky was being investigated over his business activities, and not as a media magnate or prominent member of the Jewish community.

The arrest of Gusinsky, whose news organizations have often been critical of the Kremlin, has caused an outcry and tainted Putin's first official foreign tour.

Putin met German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der on Thursday and they declared a new and fruitful start to Russian-German relations, despite whiffs of the old Cold War.

Putin stirred Cold War memories when he spoke of the dangers of NATO expansion and a U.S. missile defense but offset that with a call to seize the chance to work with a willing new Russia to promote stability and mutual economic benefit.

"We agree that we want a really substantive new start in our relations," Schr?der told a news conference in his office.

In the days of the Cold War, when Putin served as a KGB spy in Communist East Germany for five years in the 1980s, that office was used by East German leader Erich Honecker.

Schr?der hailed the new Kremlin leader's knowledge of Germany, his command of German and his "open-minded" approach in talks with Moscow's biggest creditor and trading partner.

Putin said the two days of talks, including many meetings between ministers from both sides, would bear fruit. Sources said business deals were likely to be signed on the sidelines.

"Now is a unique opportunity for those who are interested in partnership with Russia," Putin told German business leaders in his first major policy speech on foreign soil since taking office last month. "It would be wrong not to take it."

Responding to investors' concerns about state power in Russia, notably since Gusinsky's arrest, Putin insisted foreign business should welcome, not fear, a "dictatorship of the law."

A Kremlin source described the private chemistry between Schr?der and Putin as promising, assisted by the Russian president's fluent German.

No one expects a return to the bear-hugging days of their predecessors, President Boris Yeltsin and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, both physical giants with a sentimental streak.

But both sides are anxious to get relations back on warmer terms following a year or two of frost over Moscow's 1998 debt default and differences over Yugoslavia, Chechnya and other issues.

"Not just Germany but all Europe has an interest in close and friendly relations with Russia," Schr?der said.

Putin treated his business audience to a lengthy insight into Russia's security concerns and a justification for Moscow's war against the "Terrorist International" in Chechnya.

He warned that expanding the West's NATO alliance into Eastern Europe and setting up a U.S. missile defense system could provoke Russia.

"If a country like Russia feels threatened, that would destabilize the situation in Europe and the whole world."

But Putin's overall tone was conciliatory. He repeated an offer to share Russian technology to create a European shield against rogue missiles and insisted, in response to strong doubt expressed in Washington, that this was technically feasible. "All we need is the political will," he said.

Schr?der, too, has criticized the U.S. national missile defense plan, telling President Bill Clinton in Berlin two weeks ago that it could spark a new arms race with Moscow.

Restructuring Moscow's $43 billion debt to creditor states, half of it owed to Germany, was also high on the agenda of Putin's visit to Berlin, although major decisions are not expected.

Economics Minister Werner M?ller said a problem over export credit guarantees that had been holding up other business deals had been "politically resolved" after talks with Economic Development Minister German Gref.

Putin's wife, Lyudmila, came with him to Germany and she visited the Expo 2000 world fair in Schr?der's home city of Hanover with his wife, Doris Schr?der-K?epf.

For a woman presented by Kremlin spin doctors as a reluctant first lady, Lyudmila Putin coped smoothly with the media pack, speaking German.

For his part, Putin also hit it off with conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel, an East German-educated physicist, who responded to his German with fluent Russian.

Putin also met Kohl on Thursday and got a vote of confidence from the former chancellor, who is now in disgrace after a party funding scandal. A Russian source who witnessed the meeting between the two at Putin's Berlin hotel said they spoke for about 20 minutes and discussed bilateral relations as well as international affairs, including the Balkans.

Putin was to dine at Schr?der's private residence with only a close circle of aides. He said security issues would be on the agenda.