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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU, NATO Top Talks With Schroeder

ReutersPutin sharing a laugh with Gerhard Schroeder and his wife, Doris, as he sees them off at Vnukovo Airport early on Saturday.
President Vladimir Putin stressed Friday that Russia does not fear NATO enlargement, but he warned that the military alliance's eastward march will not improve international security and acknowledged Moscow has disputes with the expanding European Union, which will take in eight former Soviet republics or satellites next month.

"We have never expressed concern about the expansion of the European Union. Never," Putin said after a meeting at his residence outside Moscow with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who arrived for a brief one-day visit.

But Putin said that because more than half of Russia's trade will be with the EU after its expansion, "We have spoken about how relations between the Russian Federation and the expanding European Union should be built.

"None of us wants modern Europe to be divided by new and this case virtual Berlin walls," Putin said. "The question of how to find the path to this cooperation is not simple."

He said he had discussed the problems with Schroeder and that "as always, resolution lies through the path of compromise."

Putin suggested Russia could eventually join the EU.

Schroeder said Putin "expressed great interest in Russia's really developing a strategic partnership with the EU" and that for that to happen, "it is necessary to remove the bureaucratic obstacles" hindering cooperation.

Schroeder said Russia and Germany were preparing a document for a June meeting that would include compromises meant to ease Russia's concerns about the economic effects of EU expansion.

In an interview with Westdeutscher Rundfunk radio before departing for Moscow, Schroeder said Germany and France "are working to ensure that what we have decided on -- a strategic partnership between the EU and Russia -- is implemented."

Schroeder, the first Group of Eight leader to meet with Putin since his March 14 re-election, opened the meeting with congratulations. "Not many heads of state can rely on the support of 71.2 percent of the voters," he said.

When new prime minister and former EU envoy Mikhail Fradkov joined Friday's meeting, Schroeder said, "We know you as a great European, and we should expect to resolve the misunderstandings that now exist between Russia and the EU."

In the radio interview, Schroeder said he was convinced Putin's second term would bring further democratization.