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Putin Heads To Belarus, EU Partners In First Official Visit


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) is expected to discuss economic aid with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. (file photo)
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) is expected to discuss economic aid with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. (file photo)
Vladimir Putin is heading to Belarus, Germany, and France on his first official foreign trip since returning to the Kremlin for his third term as Russian president.

The three destinations are seen as highly symbolic because autocratic and internationally isolated Belarus is still under strong Russian influence, while Germany and France are Russia's top partners among EU member states.

Putin arrived in Minsk on May 31 for talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. A statement from the Kremlin said "the first foreign visit after the head of state's inauguration highlights the special nature" of the two countries' cooperation.

A day later, he is due to hold talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before traveling to Paris for his first meeting with new French President Francois Hollande.

Putin, who was inaugurated for his third term on May 7, did not attend the Group of Eight industrial nations summit in the United States earlier this month.

Economic Aid

In Minsk, Putin and Lukashenka are expected to discuss further economic integration between their neighboring countries.

Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan agreed late last year to create a Eurasian economic union, an EU-style project championed by Putin to bring together former Soviet republics.

A Kremlin spokesman said Putin and Lukashenka are also expected to discuss further economic aid for Belarus, which is battling a severe economic crisis.

Belarus's economic troubles have been intensified by asset freezes and other sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States in response to the crackdown on opposition supporters by Lukashenka's authoritarian regime.

A Kremlin spokesman has said Putin and Lukashenka will issue a joint statement following their talks.

Trade And Energy Ties

Russian-EU trade and energy ties are expected to top the agenda of Putin's talks with Merkel in Berlin on June 1.

Germany is Russia's biggest EU trading partner.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the situation in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad continues a bloody crackdown on opponents.

Moscow is a traditional ally of the regime in Damascus and has blocked moves for tough international sanctions aimed at ending the violence.

Germany has backed Western efforts to isolate the Assad regime.

Putin, who spent five years as a KGB agent in former East Germany, is also expected to meet President Joachim Gauck, who was a rights activist in East Germany under communism.

Trade and energy ties, as well as Syria and the eurozone crisis, are also expected to frame the agenda of Putin's talks with Hollande in Paris.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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