Relations between Russia and Germany take centre stage on Sunday as two of Europe's major powers prepare for a two-day summit. The leaders of the countries and their governments will hold a series of meetings in the German city of Weisbaden to discuss business and defence issues.
The ninth annual Russo-German bilateral forum, known as the 'Petersburg Dialogue', gets under way in Wiesbaden, central Germany, on Sunday. It lasts for two days and gives government ministers on both sides a chance to hold face-to-face talks on a range of topics of mutual interest.
President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold informal one-on-one talks as well has taking part in ministerial meetings and media conferences.
U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence shield in Europe and Russia's threat to leave the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty will be discussed at the summit.
Weisbaden, sometimes called the 'Northern Nice', is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is famous for its thermal springs and spa.
Dzhamilya Engels, a Russian immigrant who moved here in 1989, and runs a tourist agency, says, "In the 19th century many rich Russian aristocrats considered it a proper thing to come here, to Wiesbaden, and to other nearby spa towns".
The city is flooded with the legends of older times and many of them tell deal with the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
"He was desperate to sort out his financial situation, so he decided to gamble what he had left. He was so sure they were going to win that he lost everything. And according to a legend, he was unable to pay for his hotel. One of the Grand Halls of today's Wiesbaden casinos is named after Dostoevsky," says Dzhamilya.
The city today boasts of a lot of sites that are linked to Dostoevsky. Like the hotel Nassauer Hof where, rumour has it, they still keep his unpaid bill. And indeed the writer spent a lot of time in the casino, gambling away his fortune.
Today Russians are still regular visitors here.
It has been suggested that a Wiesbaden's casino inspired Dostoevsky to write "the Gambler". He made the first drafts hoping to pay off debts. Dostoevsky's favorite game was roulette.
These days the new Russian elite are here to play political games and experts are placing their bets on the future of Russian-German relations. This future is the focus of the Petersburg Dialogue, the forum aimed at social and public co-operation between Germany and Russia.
The Chairman on the Russian side is the first and the only Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, who once tried to promote the idea of "a common European home".
"Our dialogue needs a second wind. Politics alone cannot assure success. To achieve it dialogue and communication should be developed among ordinary people," Mr Gorbachev believes.
After Angela Merkel came to power in Germany, many predicted the relationship between the countries would deteriorate. Merkel's foreign policy priorities are oriented more to the West than to the East.
Vladimir Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are close friends. Many believe it is this friendship that allowed for their successful co-operation.
Germany remains one of Russia's biggest and most important and the largest trading partners.
Together they are working on a number of business projects, such as the construction of a gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea.
At the same time, Angela Merkel is critical of the way Russia uses its energy resources. She's also unhappy with the state of democracy in Russia. These differences are making many analysts sceptical about the future of Russian-German relations.
Klaus Mangold Chairman, German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations says:
"Let them be sceptical, and even if they are more pessimistic, I am very much convinced that there is no alternative for having outstanding strategic relations between Russia and Germany. We should integrate more. Russia and Germany should not make the same mistake. We should look forward so that Russia will not be in a kind of isolation. This will lead nowhere."
Today Russia is redefining both itself and its relations with other countries. Its ties with Germany might lack warmth at the moment, but they are based on pragmatism and business ties. ( RT )