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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Makes Putin Feel at Home

WEIMAR, Germany -- President Vladimir Putin flew in to Germany on Tuesday for fresh summit talks, declared the country Moscow's most trusted Western partner, and immediately made himself at home.

He hoped two days of talks with his host Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the former East Germany -- a familiar area to him where he built his career -- will consolidate Moscow's ties with Europe ahead of a May meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Both men are certain to make a public display of Putin's pro-Western policies, particularly the Kremlin's support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Putin, a fluent German speaker after a 1984-90 stint as a KGB agent in East Germany, engaged in lively conversation as he and Schröder greeted ministers on arrival in the Marktplatz, the picturesque focal point of the historic town of Weimar.

The pair then strode over to chat with cheering crowds on the edge of the square, ringed by 16th- and 17th-century buildings with painted facades and red-tiled roofs.

They went inside the ornate stone town hall for initial talks before addressing the Petersburg Dialogue, a forum set up to promote bilateral ties.

Putin, who scored a diplomatic coup with an impassioned address to Germany's parliament last September, told German journalists before his trip that he hoped to reach an accord with Schröder on Moscow's debt to former East Germany.

Germany, which holds 40 percent of Russia's $40 billion debt to the Paris Club of creditor nations, wants Moscow to pay 6.4 billion convertible rubles entered into East Germany's books, but the two sides have failed to agree on an exchange rate.

"We may not sign the final documents but we can make the fundamental decision," Putin told reporters ahead of the visit.

Putin's visit also allows both sides to show understanding of the other's outlook as Russia negotiates a strategic nuclear arms deal with Washington and works out a new forum for ties with NATO ahead of the alliance's second eastward expansion this year -- possibly to Russia's own borders.

It is uncertain if Western worries over Russia will be raised publicly, including accusations of use of excessive force against Chechen separatists and worries over press freedom.

Several dozen protesters, some of them Chechen refugees, gathered in Weimar accusing Russia of excesses in the military campaign. "Herr Schröder, Your Friend Is Extending Terror in Chechnya," read one placard.

Though his approval rating remains around 70 percent, Putin now faces more opposition to his pro-Western policies. The German and Russian leaders are likely to share common ground in calling for a broad approach to tackle the Middle East crisis and expressing distaste for any U.S. strike against Iraq.

Putin and Schröder planned to attend an evening concert followed by a dinner featuring regional German dishes, including blood sausage, suckling pig and baked apple.

But one site pointedly not on the agenda was a visit to nearby Buchenwald, the location of both a Nazi concentration camp and post-war Soviet detention camp. Officials there said plans for a brief stop were dropped.