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Russian, German Presidents Meet Amid Tense Ties

Medvedev and Merkel during a meeting in Sochi on August 15
(RFE/RL) -- Senior German and Russian officials are meeting in St. Petersburg, with Russia seeking to show business is back to usual in the wake of the Georgia crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are participating in the talks, as is Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The implementation of a cease-fire agreement in Georgia is likely to be discussed, as is the state of the Nord Stream pipeline.

The talks in St. Petersburg mark the fourth time Merkel and Medvedev have met this year.

But it may be the most critical meeting to date, coming in the wake of Moscow's controversial military campaign in Georgia and just one day after EU monitors began security patrols in the South Caucasus country.

Germany is traditionally considered Moscow's closest Western European ally. But Merkel has been sharply critical of Russia's actions in Georgia and its decision to recognize the independence of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The German chancellor is bringing a smaller delegation than usual to the "St. Petersburg Dialogue," an annual summit of Russian and German government officials. Merkel is also staying only one day instead of the usual two.

Leading Trading Partner

Talks are expected to touch on Georgia and Moscow's pledge to abide by a cease-fire agreement to pull back from specified buffer zones within 10 days of the EU monitors' arrival. But Medvedev and other Russian officials are likely eager to steer conversation toward less contentious topics, like trade and the global financial crisis.

Germany is Russia's leading European trade partner, with exports to Russia jumping more than 20 percent in the first half of this year to reach $22.3 billion. Russia exports to Germany reached $23.5 billion during the same period.

Merkel's delegation includes chief executives from the BASF chemicals firm and the Siemens engineering giant, as well as the head of the Germany energy agency.

Energy issues are likely to top Medvedev's agenda -- in particular, continued cooperation on the $10 billion Nord Stream project, which will bypass troublesome transit states like Ukraine by delivering Siberian gas directly to Europe through a pipeline running along the floor of the Baltic Sea.

The project has been delayed by ecological concerns and complaints from Poland and the Baltic states that Nord Stream contradicts EU policy on diversifying energy sources and will only increase European dependence on Russia.