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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin, EU Leaders to Talk Economics

President Vladimir Putin heads to Stockholm on Friday for weekend talks with European Union leaders, expected to focus mainly on the course of reforms and protection for investors in his country.

But rising tensions in Macedonia, where clashes between security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas have sparked fears of a wider Balkan conflict, seem likely to be part of the discussions between Russia and EU states in the Swedish capital.

Sweden is current EU president and has made Russia one of its priorities during its six-month term. Putin's informal talks on Friday will be the first such discussions between a Russian leader and EU chiefs.

Russia has said it wants firmer relations with the EU and other meetings are planned in the next few months.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is also due to meet his EU counterparts. Ivanov was in the Balkans this week to study the situation in Macedonia and talk with regional leaders.

"The summit will allow us to take a wide look at the future of the European continent, to discuss questions that need to be decided in the building of a united Europe without dividing lines," Ivanov said last week of Putin's talks.

Sweden's ambassador to Russia, Sven Hirdman, said EU foreign ministers would be looking forward to hearing the results of Ivanov's trip to the Balkans.

He said Putin's talks might cover such issues as potential problems for Russia's Kaliningrad region, which will eventually be surrounded by EU member states, but they were likely to deal more with economic issues.

These might include Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, he said. "It is touching base, concentrating on economic relations and trade relations, perhaps the WTO and investments, these are the issues," Hirdman said.

The EU has said it backs Russian WTO entry, which Moscow would like to achieve by 2002, but which is expected to take longer.

Other EU-Russia issues are cooperation in the energy field, as well as possible loans from the European Investment Bank. EU member states would like tough terms on these loans as Russia has in the past swallowed up billions of dollars of aid.

Putin may seek to reassure EU leaders about Russia's commitment to repaying foreign debt following a debacle with the Paris Club of sovereign lenders at the start of this year. The confusion came after Moscow said it would not make all its payments, but then retreated under strong pressure and decided to pay.

Many leaders in the West are still trying to figure out exactly what Putin, an ex-KGB spy and former head of Russia's FSB security police, is planning for his country. They have heard his statements about respecting democracy, freedom of the press and keeping economic reforms on track. But they have been worried by Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, which is dragging on amid allegations of rights abuses committed by Moscow's forces.

The West has also voiced concern over press freedoms after a clampdown on independent media boss Vladimir Gusinsky, which the authorities say is about fighting fraud and corruption.