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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit to Focus on Debt, Global Security, Media Freedom

ST. PETERSBURG — Russia's aspirations for closer ties with Europe and its debts to Germany lead the list of concerns during a summit meeting between President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Schroeder is scheduled to arrive Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia's imperial capital and Putin's hometown, for a two-day visit.

The two leaders have cultivated friendly ties, helped by Putin's fluent German honed during his years as a KGB agent in East Germany. Schroeder hosted Putin in Germany last year, and their families celebrated Russian Orthodox Christmas in Moscow in January.

In addition, Putin has emphasized closer ties with the European Union and downplayed relations with the United States, a priority for his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.

Schroeder has said the summit should help boost economic ties and a closer European partnership with Russia.

In an article in the German weekly Die Zeit last week, Schroeder described Germany as "the motor" of European policy toward Russia and tried to assuage Russian suspicions about NATO's possible eastward expansion.

As with previous meetings between Putin and Schroeder, the summit is expected to focus on ways for Russia to repay debts to Germany, its largest creditor.

Of Russia's $48 billion debt to the Paris Club of creditor nations, it owes Germany $19 billion.

Russia initially balked at paying $3.5 billion in Paris Club debts coming due this year, but later yielded to pressure from creditor countries - including Germany - and started paying.

Schroeder suggested last year that Germany would consider accepting shares in Russian businesses to cancel some of the debt, but talks on the idea have been difficult and no agreement has been reached.

Schroeder's two-day visit to Russia follows a meeting last month with U.S. President George W. Bush, where Schroeder raised skeptical questions about American plans for a missile shield, which is opposed by Russia.

German officials have said that Schroeder would brief Putin on those talks but wouldn't act as a mediator.

Putin has proposed a joint European missile defense system - a plan seen by some as an attempt to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies. But Germany and other European nations have made it clear that they won't allow any rift in relations.

Despite the camaraderie, Schroeder and other German officials have expressed concern about threats to media freedom in Russia. The issue may affect the summit because of the showdown over NTV, Russia's only independent nationwide television network.

The state-connected natural gas giant Gazprom is trying to take over the station in what the journalists call a Kremlin attempt to muzzle them.

To showcase his support for media freedom, Schroeder is expected to give an interview to Echo of Moscow radio, which is part of the Media-Most company that also includes NTV.