Putin visits Luxembourg

More energy and investment agreements were expected to be signed during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Luxembourg on Thursday, underscoring Moscow's growing economic clout.

During his visit to Austria on Wednesday, Putin downplayed disagreements with the European Union that were laid bare at last week's summit in Samara, Russia. But the issue will be picked up again when Putin has talks with Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, later Thursday.

Trade between Russia and Luxembourg has more than tripled over the past three years and totaled EUR241 million (US$325 million) last year, Luxembourg officials said. The Grand Duchy has long been a European banking magnet and financial services are an increasingly important link between the two.

During the visit, Putin is to sign energy, banking and steel agreements, including one for Gazprom to build thermal power plants. Putin had also signed energy deals in Vienna on Wednesday.

The increasing business links do little to hide increasingly awkward political ties between Moscow and the 27-nation EU, highlighted this week by Russia's refusal to extradite a Russian suspect in the poisoning death last year of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Other issues include the complicated trade dispute with Poland over meat imports; energy cutoffs to neighbors during price disputes over the past few years; Russia's threat to veto a Western-backed plan for Kosovo's independence in the U.N.; Western concerns over human rights issues in Russia; and Russia's criticism of U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Relations between the West and Russia have chilled in recent years as Putin has tightened his grip on power at home and grown bolder on the international stage.

Still, Putin has said those issue should not stand in the way of better cooperation.

"I don't think we have particular problems with the EU," Putin said in Vienna, adding most problems still stemmed from the Soviet era.