Merkel tells Putin Moscow and Berlin must keep talking, despite differences

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In her final working visit to Russia before stepping down as leader next month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Russia's Vladimir Putin that Moscow and Berlin should continue to talk despite "deep differences".

Merkel's trip to Moscow coincides with the anniversary of the nerve-agent attack on now-jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose life was saved by doctors in Berlin.

"I demanded from the Russian President that he free Navalny," Merkel said after talks with Putin, who has denied that Navalny was behind bars for his political activity.

She has blamed the 2020 attack on the Kremlin after tests in European laboratories showed Navalny was poisoned using the Novichok chemical weapon, and has called for his release. Putin denies any involvement.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said the attack had put a "heavy burden" on relations between the two countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron repeated demands for Putin to release Navalny on the eve of Merkel's visit in a phone call with the Russian leader, according to the Elysée.

The chancellor will travel to Russia's rival Ukraine after visiting the Kremlin chief.

Leaders who share the same background

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, and Putin, a former KGB agent stationed there, speak each other's languages.

During the chancellor's 16 years in power, the pair have maintained a dialogue despite strained relations, dampened by issues ranging from alleged cyber-attacks to the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

"Even if we have deep disagreements, we are talking to one another and it should stay that way," Merkel told Putin in a televised exchange before the official talks at the Kremlin.

"We have a lot to talk about," she added, naming several issues on their agenda, including the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine and the authoritarian crackdown in Russia-allied Belarus.

Merkel to move on to Ukraine

The German leader is expected to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, as differences continue over Moscow's troop build-up on Ukraine's borders.

Germany has been a major player in efforts to broker peace in eastern Ukraine.

Merkel may also seek to provide Ukraine with assurances over Nord Stream 2, the controversial gas pipeline set to double the volume of natural gas exports from Russia to Germany.

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