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Russia's Putin Vows to Boost Economic Ties With South Africa

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in South Africa for a two-day visit - the first by a Russian head of state. The visit is part of Mr. Putin's effort to improve ties with African countries.

Mr. Putin and South African President Thabo Mbeki went straight into talks following the arrival of the Russian leader in Cape Town. During the talks the two leaders concluded a number of agreements aimed at strengthening trade and economic relations. The agreements are aimed at expanding cooperation in the fields of science, aerospace research, and energy, as well as the military-industrial sector.

Mr. Putin later told reporters that trade between the countries does not reflect the good relations they share.

"Our major focus was our trade and economic cooperation," he said. "The thing is that the level of our economic cooperation is thoroughly out of line with the political trust and political cooperation that we have had over the recent years. This cannot be compared to the volume of trade and the economic ties that South Africa has with other leading countries of the world."

Russia is not a major trading partner for South Africa. Trade between the countries last year was about $170 million - most of it South African machines, engines, appliances and fruit exported to Russia. Mr. Putin, who is traveling with a large delegation of Russian business leaders, said that his country is planning very large investments in South Africa.

Mr. Mbeki, who noted that South Africa will be taking a two-year non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council next January will be looking to Russia for leadership in fulfilling its responsibilities.

"And we think that the experience and capacity of the Russian Federation with regard to all of these matters will be of great importance to us, because we then have to understand all of these matters in the necessary detail to be able to take the correct decision or make the right contributions," he said.

In addition to his meetings with senior government representatives, Mr. Putin will also meet with senior South African business leaders. From South Africa Mr. Putin will travel to Morocco.