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Putin defends interest in defense group

The Baltimore Sun

COMPIEGNE, France --President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia dismissed concerns over his country's growing interest in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. at a meeting here yesterday with his French and German counterparts.

"As far as the acquisition of a 5 percent stake is concerned, it is not at all evidence of aggressive behavior on the part of the Russian side," Putin told reporters. "We will not use this stake to change in any way the institutional situation of EADS."

Discussions with President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany at Compiegne, north of Paris, included Russia's handling of its energy resources and such diplomatic issues as Lebanon and Iran.

This month, a Russian state-controlled bank bought a 5.02 percent stake in EADS, the parent company of Airbus, and Russian officials indicated then that the government hoped to increase its stake. But EADS and Thierry Breton, the French finance minister, subsequently rebuffed speculation that Russia might gain a position on the board of the European consortium.

Putin also said that Russia was ready to send "a small deployment of Russian military engineers" to Lebanon, as part of a bilateral agreement outside the U.N.-backed force. Putin said that Russia wanted to be sure that his country's contribution was welcome by all Lebanese parties before proceeding.

The three leaders said they discussed energy, and Putin tried to reassure Western countries that Russia was a reliable partner that appreciated the mutual dependence of producers and consumers.

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