WARSAW - Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Poland produced few concrete economic benefits, but underlined the Kremlin leader's determination to exploit post-communist alignments, including European Union enlargement.
Putin's two-day trip, which closed on Thursday with pledges by both sides to rejuvenate trade, also offered both the Kremlin leader and his host, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, the chance to shake off a 20th century legacy of deep grievances and mistrust.
Addressing hundreds of businessmen from both countries, Putin said Poland's future membership of the European Union - possibly within two years - could be to Moscow's advantage.
"The integration of Poland in the EU can open, indeed open, new possibilities of cooperation if we consistently uphold our national interests," he said in Poznan, western Poland.
"Our task together will be to create those favourable conditions to expand our links on the basis of a friendly political climate and efforts to form a proper legal base."
Russia has never objected to EU expansion and Putin, aligned to the United States since the September suicide attacks, has softened opposition to further enlargement of NATO provided Russia is involved in the decision-making process. Poland was one of three ex-communist states to join NATO in 1999.
His latest comments seemed to indicate new acceptance of the realities of an expanded Europe, while calling for steps to tackle problems facing Russia.
First among those are the effects on Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave wedged between Poland and Lithuania. Both Moscow and the EU want to ensure goods and people can move in and out of the region and avoid any deterioration in social conditions there.
"Russia sees no problem with Poland's entry to the European Union. The only problem is Kaliningrad," Kwasniewski told state television at the close of the visit. "Russia is looking for a positive way to solve this.
POLISH LEADER SUGGESTS KALININGRAD TALKS
Kwasniewski has offered to call a meeting on Kaliningrad of Russian, Polish and European Union leaders plus those of Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, also EU candidates.
Russian and Polish officials announced plans to produce buses with Polish parts in Kaliningrad and upgrade roads. But Putin expressed impatience at the pace of talks with the EU, and the region's governor, Vladimir Yegorov, warned businessmen only two years remained to solve issues on visas and trade barriers.
The two leaders appeared satisfied with efforts to set aside grievances harboured over 20th century history.
Kwasniewski praised Putin's gesture of placing flowers at a monument to Poland's Home Army which led resistance leading to the abortive 1944 Warsaw uprising against the Nazis.
Putin also offered legal help in rehabilitating Polish victims of Stalinism. But he stayed away from more sensitive sites, including a monument honouring the Warsaw revolt, which Western historians say Moscow deliberately failed to back.
Putin said it was time to pass on to more pressing issues.
"In certain situations, repentance can be a useful thing," he said. "But...we could start expecting repentance from each other on different issues in our common history, count how many times each other has repented, and start keeping score."
The visit failed to resolve outstanding economic issues.
No deal was signed on reducing gas imports after Warsaw overestimated its needs or on the route of a second transit link bringing Arctic gas to Europe. The two sides also put off conclusion of an investment protection pact.
Rzeczpospolita daily called for time and good to tackle the problems "because there are great possibilities for cooperation on both sides. It would be a great sin not to exploit them."
Kwasniewski declared himself an optimist.
"This is the beginning of the spring of our relations," he told the television. "Whether it becomes a full spring depends only on both of us."