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Putin to leave for his last G8 summit -1

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will cede power next year, will leave for Germany Wednesday for a three-day summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.
(Recasts, adds details in paras 3, 4,)

MOSCOW/HEILIGENDAMM, June 6 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will cede power next year, will leave for Germany Wednesday for a three-day summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.

The meetings, hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are set to address climate change, development aid to Africa, Iran's nuclear program, and aid to Darfur, but are likely to be overshadowed by a dispute between Moscow and Washington over U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Europe.

The summit at Germany's Baltic resort of Heiligendamm will also involve the leaders of G8 members Japan, Canada, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. Leaders from China, Brazil, India, South Africa, and Mexico have also been invited to the summit.

U.S. President George W. Bush raised tensions ahead of the meeting, criticizing at a speech in Prague Tuesday what he called the derailing of democratic processes in Russia. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told U.K. media he would confront Putin over Russia's refusal to extradite a suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-FSB officer and British national murdered in London last November.

The Kremlin said it expected the 33rd summit to yield interesting discussions, as there will be one new and two outgoing leaders participating, with Putin stepping down as president next year, when his term of office comes to an end.

Igor Shuvalov, Russia's "sherpa" at the summit - the head of state's personal representative who prepares the agenda and agreements at the talks - said Putin would be feeling more confident than certain other G8 leaders.

The British prime minister, who steps down June 27, will have an opportunity to be more open, Shuvalov said. "He will be responsible for his nation in the longer term, and will not be concerned about disciplinary penalties from his own party or his Cabinet."

France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected mid-May, is expected to make "interesting" statements, as documents for the summit have been drafted without his participation, Shuvalov said.

At the summit, Putin will hold bilateral meetings with U.S. President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese leader Hu Jintao.

In an interview with the press from the G8 countries ahead of the summit Putin described the G8 forum as "a useful and interesting event" for coordinating opinion on the key issues on the global economy and international agenda.

In an interview last Thursday, Bush said he would try to persuade the Russian and Chinese leaders to toughen sanctions against Iran.

At their second bilateral meeting since the APEC summit last November Putin and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will discuss the Kuril Islands. Japan considers that the four southern islands of the archipelago were illegally seized by the Soviet Union after World War II, and wants their return as a condition for signing a peace treaty with Russia.

Putin said although he did not consider the Kurils disputable, Russia understands Japanese motives and wants to find a solution to the problem.

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