Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in France on Monday for an official visit to kick off a year of cultural exchanges between the two countries, as well as for talks with top officials.
Medvedev was met with full military honors at Orly airport by French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and other officials, and will meet with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, later on Monday for talks on a range of international and bilateral issues.
On Tuesday, the Russian president is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Francois Fillon, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, and the heads of the French Senate and National Assembly, Gerard Larcher and Philippe Seguin.
The visit by Medvedev and his wife, Svetlana, will mark the official start of the Year of Russia in France and France in Russia and includes a dinner on Tuesday hosted by Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni.
In February, Russia won a tender for a plot of land on the banks of the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower in downtown Paris, where it plans to build a spiritual and cultural center.
The formal discussions will focus on bilateral economic, military and humanitarian cooperation and Russia's WTO entry bid.
Other items on the agenda include the overcoming of the global economic crisis, a new European security treaty, the situation in Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear program.
Russia's first couple will return home on Wednesday.
With some 80 top businessmen on the delegation list, around 10 major deals are expected to be signed during the visit, including an agreement on GDF Suez joining the Gazprom-led Nord Stream pipeline project.
The two companies signed a memorandum earlier Monday on the French utility joining the project to pump gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, and Gazprom head Alexei Miller and GDF Suez chairman Gerard Mestrallet are expected to sign a formal deal in the presence of the two presidents later on Monday.
One deal reportedly not set to be concluded is the controversial Russian purchase of a French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship worth 400-500 million euros ($540-$675 million). The French government has approved the sale but Russia has not yet made a final decision. A source in the Russian Defense Ministry said there were no plans to finalize the sale during Medvedev's visit.
A Mistral-class ship is capable of transporting and deploying 16 helicopters, four landing barges, up to 70 vehicles including 13 battle tanks, and 450 soldiers. The vessel is equipped with a 69-bed hospital and can be used as an amphibious command ship.
Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said deals may also be signed between Russian national development bank Vnesheconombank and French group BNP Paribas, Inter RAO UES and French-Italian Fenice, and Russia's Transmashholding and France's Alstom Transport.
Russian-French trade turnover increased by more than five times in 2003-2008. Despite the world economic crisis, French investments in the Russian economy accounted for $10.4 billion in 2009.
The two countries also cooperate in space exploration. A contract to launch 10 Russian Soyuz-ST carrier rockets from the Kourou space center in French Guiana was signed by Russia's space agency and French satellite launch firm Arianespace in 2008. Official sources say the first launch is likely to take place this year.
PARIS, March 1 (RIA Novosti)