Putin on his first foreign visit as Russian PM to France

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Moscow, May 29 (UNI) Former Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting France today in his first foreign trip after becoming Prime Minister earlier this month.

The two-day working visit is taking place on the invitation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Putin will have dinner with Mr Sarkozy, a rare honour for visiting Prime Ministers, after meeting French PM Francois Fillon.

France has been chosen as Mr Putin's first destination because the country is due to take on the EU presidency, analysts said here.

Russia is hoping that France can help improve relations with Brussels, strained over pact talks.

The EU foreign ministers on Monday approved a negotiating mandate for a new partnership agreement with Russia, after a decision by Poland and Lithuania to unblock the mandate.

The negotiations on the new partnership and cooperation pact are expected to be launched at a Russia-EU summit in Khanty-Mansiisk, Western Siberia, on coming June 26-27. The old agreement expired in December 2007 and was extended for one year.

A Russian government source told Itar-Tass that France was Russia's traditional foreign partner with which Russia also develops foreign policy contacts.

During Mr Putin's visit, the sides would also discuss Russian-French cooperation in high-tech spheres such as space, nuclear power, aircraft and automotive production, as well as the participation of French companies in the construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, RIA Novosti reported quoting a spokesman.

Bilateral trade between the two countries has increased three-fold in the past five years, reaching 16.4 billion dollars in 2007. Fuel and energy supplies make up 85 per cent of Russia's exports to France.

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