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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Tells Scots of Land of Opportunity

APQueen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, posing with President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, during a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening.
EDINBURGH, Scotland -- President Vladimir Putin appealed to British investors on Wednesday to step up their already strong involvement in Russia, telling Scottish business figures his country was a land of "immense opportunities."

Putin was in Edinburgh on the second day of a state visit to Britain, which he has used to bury differences over Iraq and seek more support from Russia's biggest foreign investor.

Putin repeated to local politicians, business figures and academics his aim to double economic growth over the next 10 years -- a target that has met resistance at home from more cautious figures in key ministries who incline to more conservative forecasts.

Linking economic progress to making Russia's institutions more democratic, he said: "We need capital, modern management and technology. The more we succeed in making our country stable and democratic, the more our economy will be successful.

"Russia now offers immense opportunities for our own business and for our partners from abroad," he added.

Though Russia is enjoying high growth rates, Putin is desperate to boost the economy further ahead of the presidential election next March in which, judging by a hint dropped in Edinburgh, he appears certain to stand.

Energy cooperation accounts for the lion's share of British investments in Russia after landmark deals signed by energy giants BP and Royal Dutch/Shell Group.

BP and Russia's TNK will probably sign a milestone agreement on Thursday, sealing a $6.75 billion joint venture after Putin opens an energy conference in London.

Putin said that in talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday he would raise Gazprom's plans to build a new pipeline to northern Germany, with a possible extension to Britain.

"We have plentiful gas reserves at acceptable prices for the European economy," he said. "If we build the line, Europe could have a competitive advantage against other regions of the world."

He was greeted at Edinburgh Castle by Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, and had lunch at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the queen's official residence in Scotland.

Putin spoke of the ties between Edinburgh and St. Petersburg, his native city.

Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, later visited a Faberge exhibition to see the work of the tsars' last court jeweler, before returning to London.

Putin and Blair, who fell out over the Iraq war, which Russia opposed and in which British troops fought alongside U.S. forces, will have half an hour of private talks on Thursday. They also will hold a news conference together.

While he has made clear he wants bygones to be bygones on Iraq, Putin was unrepentant about Russia's anti-war policy. "Events show that our position was well-grounded," he said.

Putin, the first Russian head of state to visit Britain officially since Tsar Alexander II in 1874, was given a sumptuous royal welcome on Tuesday.

As Putin's substantial motorcade moved through Edinburgh, residents and tourists lined the Royal Mile between the castle and palace for a glimpse of the president in his navy Mercedes, led by more than a dozen police motorcycle outriders, The Associated Press reported.

One protester, shouting slogans about Chechnya, hurled himself at Putin's car at the gates of the palace, and was quickly bundled away by police. A banner -- "What About Chechnya?"-- was briefly hung from the window of an office building.

Although Blair does not wish to harm the prospect of better relations with Russia, he is under pressure from lawmakers and rights groups to speak out against human rights abuses in Chechnya. Amnesty International has reported claims of war crimes by Russian troops, including torture, rape and "disappearances."