( AFP ) - Russian President Vladimir Putin was due in Germany on Sunday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel expected to focus on the stand-off between Moscow and Washington over US plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe.
The visit comes just two days after the foreign and defence ministers of Russia and the United States failed to resolve the dispute at a four-way meeting in Moscow that underscored mounting tensions between the former Cold War foes.
On Friday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected a Russian call to freeze plans to place 10 US interceptor missiles in Poland and a targeting radar in the Czech Republic by 2010.
Russia believes setting up these installations on its doorstep would amount to an act of aggression.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Russia would "take measures to neutralise that threat" if Washington went ahead with its plans without factoring in Russian concerns.
Merkel does not want Europe to be split by the issue and has insisted that NATO should be consulted about the US plans for the shield, while gently warning the Czechs and Poland not to act on their own.
The chancellor's talks with Putin in Wiesbaden on the banks of the Rhine will stretch over two days and also focus on the future of Kosovo and the international crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The leaders were expected to have a working dinner after Putin lands at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Sunday evening.
Kosovo is a contentious issue, with Russia denouncing Western support for independence for the ethnic Albanian-majority Serbian province.
Pristina has threatened to declare independence unilaterally unless a solution is found through the international community in time to meet a December 10 deadline.
But reaching consensus soon looks unlikely as Russia remains fiercely loyal on the issue to its ally Serbia, which regards Kosovo not only as part of the country but as the cradle of its culture.
Putin also shows no sign of falling into line with the opinion of the leading nations in the West on how to deal with Tehran's defiance on meeting international demands to halt sensitive nuclear work.
After meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Moscow on Wednesday, he signalled that he still strongly disagrees with Western accusations that Iran is using a civilian nuclear programme as a cover for making atomic weapons.
Alexander Rahr, a researcher at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said he also expected Merkel to raise the issue of freedom of speech in Russia.
Merkel and Putin briefly clashed on the issue during her visit to Russia in May, prompting the Russian president to say that demonstrators "were also arrested in Germany".
US Secretary of State Rice on Saturday criticised the extent of Putin's grip on power as she met with Russian human rights activists who urged her to pressure Moscow ahead of upcoming elections.
"There is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary," Rice said.