Putin, Merkel to meet in Berlin over Ukraine conflict

A Sukhoi Su-24

A Sukhoi Su-24 bomber seen during the main naval parade marking Russian Navy Day

Russian President Vladimir Putin danced arm-in-arm with Austria's foreign minister, Karin Kneissl, at her wedding Saturday in southern Styria province, ahead of his meeting later in the day with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Karin Kneissl was all smiles as she danced with the strongman in a vineyard in Austria's southern Styria province - though critics anxious her invitation to Putin undermined the West's tough-guy approach with Moscow. She was chosen as foreign minister by Austria's far-right Freedom Party, now a partner in the coalition government.

Amid tight security, the Russian president brought a small Cossack men's choir along with him to entertain the 100 or so guests, Austrian public broadcaster ORF said.

Karin Kneissl, the bride, is being criticised on social media for inviting Putin to her wedding as it puts questions on Austria's role as a "neutral intermediary" in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are battling government forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said a planned trans-Baltic natural gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany is exclusively an economic project, in his latest remarks over a controversial venture that has divided Europe and raised concerns in Washington.

Mr Peskov said Mr Putin said "quite a long toast in German in which he said he was thankful and happy that he got a chance to visit the hospitable Austria".

Later, Mr Putin arrived in Berlin for talks with Mrs Merkel, who said before their meeting began that Germany and Russian Federation should "work to find solutions in Ukraine".

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Putin, in his turn, replied that the Nord Stream-2 pipeline project would enable Europe to meet its growing demand for energy resources and it does not close off the possibility of gas transit through Ukraine.

Germany imports 55 billion cubic meters of gas, 70 per cent of its needs, from Russian Federation and the new pipeline would double that. Transit fees for Russian gas are an important item contributing to the Ukrainian budget.

Trump and Putin also discussed the campaign against the Islamic State, disputes over Golan Heights, and the humanitarian situation in Syria, which has suffered years of civil war, the official said.

"One of the priority areas is energy", Putin said.

Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 - the height of the migration crisis - which has weakened Angela Merkel politically and split the European Union.

"It's a work meeting from which no specific results are expected, but the number of problems we are preoccupied with - from Ukraine and Syria to the issue of economic cooperation - is so big that it is justified to be in a permanent dialogue".

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