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German, Russian Leaders Meet to Discuss Ties


German and Russian leaders are holding talks in Wiesbaden, Germany, at a time when Moscow and the European Union disagree on several critical issues, including Kosovo and energy. Lisa Bryant has more on the meeting from Paris.

The two-day gathering is part of a regular dialogue between Berlin and Moscow to improve their ties. That was a point stressed recently by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, when she talked about a strategic partnership with Russia.

But analysts like Katinka Barysh, of the Center for European Reform in London, say the relationship between the two countries, and the two leaders, has changed since the days of Merkel's predecessor, former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

"During the days of Schroeder, there were still many, and I believe Schroeder was one of them, who believed Russia wanted to be like us," said Barysh. "That we could build a strategic partnership with a country that probably just got thrown off course a bit, but was ultimately to be a liberal democracy. Now, we know this is no longer the case. So, you cannot base the relationship on the kinds of beliefs that we could during the Schroeder years."

Barysch says, today, Europe's relationship with Russia is much more of an arms-length one. And, the two do not see eye to eye on issues like the status of Kosovo, which Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to discuss.

The European Union is divided over whether to recognize Kosovo if it declares independence, while Russia backs Serbia, which is adamantly against such a move.

Russia and Europe are also at odds over energy. Russia supplies about a quarter of Europe's gas needs, but the two are at odds over accessing each others' energy markets.

But Barysh says Iran is one area where the two sides can work together.

"On Iran, for example, they have been more constructive because it's not in Russia's interest at all to have Iran, which is close to its borders, build a nuclear weapon," she added. "So, here, Russia has shown itself to be a constructive member of the international community."

Putin is to visit Iran, later this week.