Putin to visit Germany's Bavaria region for business talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin headed to Germany's southern Bavaria region on Wednesday for trade and investment talks with top German business officials.

Executives from retailer Metro AG, industrial conglomerate Siemens AG, and gas and electric utility E.On all with significant business interests and investment in Russia were to take part in the talks along with Bavaria's governor, Edmund Stoiber.

Putin brought with him Economics Minister German Gref and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, as well as business and banking executives.

The visit has underlined growing economic links with Germany, which gets a third of its natural gas from Russia.

Expansion of the energy relationship has been accompanied by Russia's growing appetite for investment in assets in Germany.

Russia's state-controlled Vneshtorgbank has bought a 5-percent stake in Airbus parent EADS, and Russia voiced interest in acquiring a larger share.

The Bavaria visit follows Putin's visit Tuesday to Dresden, where he held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and announced that gas from the Shtokman field under the Barents Sea would be shipped to Germany.

That move is expected to give German companies additional business as distributors of gas to the rest of Europe.

The visit has been overshadowed by concerns about media freedom in Russia following the killing Saturday of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of the conduct of the war in Chechnya, reports AP.

Putin promised to hunt down the killers but also played down Politkovskaya's influence, saying her death damaged the government more than her writings did.

Bavaria accounts for 17.6 percent of Russian-German trade, and nearly one-third of joint ventures in Russia involving German capital have Bavarian companies as their German partner.