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Putin Backs Chechnya Talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) began a visit to Germany on Monday by saying was he open to talking about ways to solve the conflict in Chechnya (search).

Putin's remarks as he started two days of talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search) seemed designed to dampen criticism in Germany and elsewhere of Russia's campaign against secession-minded extremists in Chechnya.

Boosting German-Russian economic ties was high on the agenda for the talks — the first between the two leaders since tension flared between Moscow and the West over Ukraine's presidential elections.

Schroeder and Putin agreed to respect the results of Sunday's repeat of Ukraine's presidential runoff vote, a German government official said on condition of anonymity. Putin irritated the West by congratulating Moscow-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovych on winning the Nov. 21 runoff, only to see Ukraine's supreme court void the result following allegations of fraud.

Putin also hinted to Schroeder he would offer to speed up Russia's debt repayment to Germany, promising a "big Christmas present," the German official said. Western creditor nations have been pressing Moscow to repay its Cold War-era debts to ease their budget deficits.

On Chechnya, Putin said he had received proposals involving Germany and the European Union and "would like to accept these proposals fully."

He did not elaborate, but German officials said Putin was referring to a German government envoy's suggestion last month to discuss reconciling the fight against terrorism with democratic norms.

Such talks also would involve the prospect of EU economic aid to the Caucasus region, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

Russia views its battle in Chechnya as part of the global war on terrorism. Russia's main security agency has claimed that Al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups are fighting alongside Chechen rebels.