NOVO-OGARYOVO, RUSSIA — President Vladimir Putin warned the West on Saturday that it could expect no easing of Russia's foreign policy under his protege, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev.
At his first meeting with a foreign leader since his election, Medvedev told visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel he would seek continuity in foreign affairs.
Putin, speaking to reporters at a joint news briefing with Merkel before the Medvedev meeting, dismissed Western hopes that his successor, to be sworn in as president in May, would strike a softer tone in foreign policy.
"I have the feeling that some of our partners cannot wait for me to stop exercising my powers so that they can deal with another person," Putin said. "I am long accustomed to the label by which it is difficult to work with a former KGB agent.
"Dmitry Medvedev will be free from having to prove his liberal views. But he is no less of a Russian nationalist than me, in the good sense of the word, and I do not think our partners will have it easier with him."
When Merkel met Medvedev, she referred to Putin's comments, quipping: "I refrained from saying 'I hope they won't become more difficult either.' "
Medvedev said: "I am assuming we will have a continuation of that cooperation which you have had with President Putin. . . . You have had big negotiations, and that makes my task easier."
Germany is by far Russia's biggest trading partner, with a record $52.8 billion in trade last year. German firms put $3.4 billion into Russia last year and have major investments in Russia's energy sector.
Putin, who is expected to preserve influence by serving as Medvedev's prime minister, has been credited at home with restoring some of Russia's international clout after the chaos of the 1990s.
But he has clashed with the West over NATO expansion, Kosovo's independence, U.S. plans to put a missile shield in Central Europe and the war in Iraq.
Merkel, a physicist from the former East Germany who speaks Russian, has scolded Putin over human rights.
She also has sought to boost trade and to mediate among Moscow, Washington and Russia's partners in the European Union.