Merkel, Putin tackle Syria and Iran in meeting outside Berlin

Angela Merkel at a refugee camp in Berlin. The row over immigration almost tore the government apart this summer

Angela Merkel at a refugee camp in Berlin. The row over immigration almost tore the government apart this summer

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday, Putin said the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would not "close the door to shipping gas through Ukraine".

Karin Kneissl was all smiles as she danced with the strongman in a vineyard in Austria's southern Styria province - though critics anxious her invitation to Putin undermined the West's tough-guy approach with Moscow.

Putin arrived with a bouquet of flowers and even brought a Cossack choir with him to entertain the bride and her groom, the entrepreneur Wolfgang Meilinger, according to Russian state-run news agency TASS.

Ms Kneissl is an independent but was selected for the post by Austria's far-Right Freedom Party, which is a partner in the government.

Kneissl is being criticised on social media for inviting Putin to her wedding as it raises questions on Austria's role as a "neutral intermediary" in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are battling government forces.

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A spokesman for Merkel said this week that the European Union was still in talks with Russian Federation to ensure that Ukraine continues to play a role in the lucrative energy transit business even after Nord Stream 2 is completed.

The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine are on the agenda for discussion as well as "big commercial projects in the context of threats that are being made by third countries", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

Ukraine worries that the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline from Russian Federation to Germany will transport gas now flowing through its territory and deprive it of crucial transit fees.

"It is completely unacceptable for Kneissl to invite Putin privately to a party", he told Austrian newspaper Der Standard.

Austria's foreign minister Karin Kneissl and Russian President Vladimir Putin at her wedding Saturday.

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The United States, which opposes the pipeline project over concerns about increasing Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas, was not present, but could have a big say in the outcome, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Maas said he had spoken with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin this week, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to visit Berlin again on September 14 after a meeting with Merkel in the German capital last month.

Germany also has a strong interest in seeing some of the Syrian refugees in Germany return home in any settlement of the civil war in their home country, and could seek Russia's support for that with President Bashar Assad.

Mr Putin promised action on Syrian refugees, saying "we must do everything" to help them return home.

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"I would like to stress that the main thing is that the Ukrainian transit - which is traditional for us - meets economic demands", Putin said, adding that Nord Stream 2 was exclusively an economic project.

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