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Medvedev visit to Germany raises hope for new era

Russia's new president arrives in Berlin Thursday for his first official visit to the West.

By Mariah BlakeCorrespondents, Correspondents / June 6, 2008

COME TO BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel met then-President-elect Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow in March.

Steffen Kugler/AP

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Berlin and Moscow

In his first visit to the West as Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev arrives in Berlin Thursday for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While his one-day stay isn't expected to allow for substantive progress on key issues, Mr. Medvedev's decision to make Germany his first Western stop holds promise of warmer ties between Moscow and Berlin.

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In Germany, the traditional link between Europe and Russia, hopes are high that the visit signals the beginning of a new era of Russia's ties with the West, which were badly strained during the final years of Vladimir Putin's rule, and the first step toward common ground on issues such as energy policy, human rights, and Kosovo.

"There are hopes that Russia will become more open to our values – human rights, democracy and rule of law – and that this very raw and aggressive stance toward Europe and the United States [under Mr. Putin] will get softer," says Stefan Meister, Russia program officer of the German Council on Foreign Relations, an independent advisory body. "This would obviously make it easier to cooperate with Russia."

Thomas Werle, spokesman for the federal government, confirmed that Merkel would bring up human rights and press freedom with Medvedev Thursday, as well as reforms he has proposed, such as fighting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, and making the judiciary more independent. Also expected on the agenda are energy security, developing a follow-up to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which governs EU-Russian relations on issues of common interests, as well as on modernizing Russia's economy, and strengthening Germany's business ties with Russia.

Last year, rapidly expanding bilateral trade between the two nations topped $52 billion. With Medvedev in power, Germany's business sector is eager to further develop economic relations with Russia, says Mr. Meister. "The hope is that he will move away from the pattern seen under Putin, of the businesses being owned and influenced by the state, and open up new opportunities for investment," he says. "Germans would be rushing to invest in Russia if there was not this political threat."

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