- Angela Merkel - Dmitry Medvedev - Germany - Russia - Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday warned the West against expecting a thaw under his "nationalist" successor Dmitry Medvedev.
"Dmitry Medvedev will be free to demonstrate his liberal views," Putin said after talks at his Novo Ogaryevo residence outside Moscow with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"But he is no less a Russian nationalist, in the good sense of the word, than I am, and I do not think that with him the partnership will be more simple."
Putin issued the warning just before Merkel went to a separate meeting with Medvedev, the first between a Western leader and the new president-elect since his controversial election March 2.
Putin also lashed out at the Western military alliance NATO, which he accused of attempting to become a "substitute for the United NationsN".
Merkel came to Russia to take the political temperature ahead of Putin handing over to Medvedev, who has crafted a more liberal image than his ex-KGB mentor.
Putin says he will become prime minister after he steps down in May, leading analysts to predict that real power may lie with the outgoing president, not his inexperienced replacement.
The German leader said there was no alternative to cooperation between Moscow and EU countries, which have frequently clashed over democracy in Russia and security concerns -- particularly during Putin's tenure.
During their brief talks, Merkel and Putin discussed Kosovo, Russian energy exports to Europe and other major international issues that Merkel said showed the need for cooperation.
"Germany and Russia, Europe and Russia, are interdependent. We must find a way to go forward together. There are many things to do," Merkel said.
However, she also alluded to East-West strains, which have worsened sharply in the last year amid disagreements on human rights in Russia and Moscow's angry opposition to a US plan for a missile defence system in central Europe.
"Since I've been in power we've found a way to discuss together and to raise critical issues in an open and sincere way," she said. "It's always a joy and sometimes a challenge."
Putin described Germany as "the most important partner for us in Europe and in the world".
Earlier this week, Merkel congratulated Medvedev on his landslide victory, while expressing concern about alleged election irregularities.
"The chancellor would like to form an impression of what the Russian political landscape will look like in future," German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said ahead of Merkel's one-day visit to Russia.
"She is looking forward to learn more about Dmitry Medvedev's stated plans to entrench the rule of law and to modernise the Russian state and economy," he said.
"The chancellor will certainly raise the domestic situation after the election, as well as the election itself, where we have criticised a whole range of aspects."
On a lighter note, Putin joked with Merkel that he had given presents to his wife for International Women's Day, which was celebrated widely in Russia on Saturday, and would breakfast with her.
"Have you prepared breakfast for your wife this morning?" Merkel asked with a smile.
"I gave her presents, but we will have breakfast together," Putin responded, despite the fact that their meeting started at around lunchtime.