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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Vladimir Putin dances at Austrian foreign minister's wedding

The Russian president attended the event ahead of talks with Angela Merkel regarding Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin dances with Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl during her wedding to businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in Gamlitz, Austria. EPA
Russian President Vladimir Putin dances with Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl during her wedding to businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in Gamlitz, Austria. EPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a flying visit to Austria to attend the wedding of the country's foreign minister on Saturday before heading to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Austrian authorities imposed tight security measures around the site of the ceremony near the southern border with Slovenia, where Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl married her partner Wolfgang Meilinger, a businessman. Ms Kneissl, an independent, was nominated by the pro-Russia Austrian Freedom Party, whose leaders also attended the wedding.

Photos showed Mr Putin dancing with the bride, who was dressed in a traditional Austrian costume. According to Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Mr Putin also brought a small Cossack men's choir along to entertain about 100 guests at the wedding.

Austrian lawmaker Joerg Leichtfried of the opposition Social Democratic Party criticised Ms Kneissl's decision to invite Mr Putin to the wedding, saying it called into question Austria's role as a neutral intermediary in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are battling government forces. Austria holds the European Union's rotating presidency.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that the president spent about an hour at the wedding. Mr Putin gave the newlyweds a cold press oil machine, a traditional Russian samovar and a landscape painting that "depicts the place where the groom hails from", according to Mr Peskov.

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Mr Peskov said Mr Putin said "quite a long toast in German in which he said he was thankful and happy that he got a chance to visit the hospitable Austria".

Speaking hours later alongside Mrs Merkel before the two leaders held talks at the German government's guesthouse in Meseberg, north of Berlin, Mr Putin said they would discuss ties, economic cooperation and Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea.

The United States and some European countries have criticised the pipeline, saying it could increase Europe's energy dependence on Russia, harm Ukraine – currently a major gas transit country – and pose an environmental risk.

Germany imported 53 billion cubic meters of Russian gas last year.

"Nord Steam 2 is purely an economic project and it doesn't close the door to shipping gas through Ukraine," Mr Putin said. Transit fees for Russian gas are an important item contributing to the Ukrainian budget.

With protesters audible on Saturday outside the guesthouse in Meseberg, Mr Putin also raised the issue of humanitarian aid and funding for international reconstruction in Syria.

"It's important to help those areas that the refugees can return to," he said. "I think it's in everyone's interests, including Europe's."

Germany, which has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the war, has in the past insisted it would not contribute to the reconstruction of Syria before a political settlement to end the war has been reached.

Mrs Merkel said the talks would also touch on the possibility of establishing a United Nations mission to help bring about peace in Ukraine.