German President Rau arrives in Moscow

MOSCOW - German President Johannes Rau arrived Monday in Moscow for a four-day state visit that includes a meeting with President Vladimir Putin and a trip to a northern cemetery where German soldiers who died during World War II are buried.

European Union expansion and the problems it will create for travel by residents of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave were also expected to be discussed during Rau's visit.

Economic ties, too, are on the agenda; Germany is Russia's No. 1 trading partner. Rau was scheduled to meet with young Russian managers who have trained in Germany.

Russia has increasingly looked to Germany as its best friend in Europe, fostered by Putin's admiration for the country and knowledge of the German language, which he polished while working in the former East Germany as a KGB agent.

Ahead of the visit, Rau said in an interview with the ITAR-Tass news agency that he hoped the trip "will further strengthen and promote the relations between the two countries, since we have so much in common."

Rau also said Russia was able to "play a special role of a bridge between Asia and Europe."

After his meetings in Moscow, Rau is to travel to the northern city of Novgorod for a two-day visit before he departs Russia on Thursday. In the region, the scene of heavy fighting during the war, Rau will visit a cemetery where German soldiers are buried and a church is being rebuilt with funds from German industry.

Putin has met Rau twice before and met Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder 14 times, Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said, according to the Interfax news agency.