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Putin to discuss Russia-EU relations at Paris talks

MOSCOW, May 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit France on Thursday at the invitation of his French counterpart Francois Fillon, the Russian government's press service said.

During the two-day visit, Putin will also meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. This will be his first foreign trip since his appointment as premier on May 8.

Russia and EU relations, including preparation for talks on a new EU-Russia partnership and cooperation pact will be a 'very important issue' at the meeting.

France is due to take over the EU presidency during the second half of this year.

"As we have always regarded dialogue with France as a significant factor in rapprochement between Russia and the EU, special attention will be paid to the issues of Russia-EU cooperation during the period of France's presidency," the spokesman said.

The negotiations on the new partnership and cooperation pact are expected to be launched at a Russia-EU summit in Khanty-Mansiisk, Western Siberia, on June 26-27. The old agreement expired in December 2007 and was extended for a further year.

The EU foreign ministers on Monday approved a negotiating mandate for a new partnership agreement with Russia, after a decision by Poland and Lithuania to unblock the mandate.

The parties will also discuss Russian-French cooperation in high-tech spheres such as space, nuclear power, aircraft and automotive production, as well as the participation of French companies in the construction of Olympic facilities in Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Bilateral trade between the two countries has increased three-fold in the past five years, reaching $16.4 billion in 2007. Fuel and energy supplies make up 85% of Russia's exports to France.

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