MOSCOW – President Dmitry Medvedev will defend a Russia-backed deal to buy German car maker Opel and seek more support for the Nord Stream gas pipeline project when he visits Munich on Thursday, a top Kremlin aide said.

Sergei Prikhodko, the Kremlin's chief foreign policy aide, told reporters that top-level intergovernment consultations in southern Germany would be dominated by efforts to keep afloat bilateral trade and economic ties hit by the global crisis.

Prikhodko said trade between Russia and Germany, its leading business partner, more than halved in the first quarter of 2009 compared with the same period last year. He gave no precise figure.

We will consider during the talks not only straightforward measures of state support for trade and economic relations, but also the prospects for stepping up new forms of broad cooperation, Prikhodko said.

He cited plans by Canadian auto parts group Magna to acquire, in partnership with No. 1 Russian lender Sberbank, a combined stake of 55 percent in Opel.

In Munich we will speak out in favor of this deal, Prikhodko said. It's a good deal. We hope others will support it as well.

The consortium reached a deal with Opel last month, but as negotiations to finalize the acquisition continue, other contenders have emerged for the stake in the unit of bankrupt U.S. auto giant General Motors.

These include Belgium-based RHJ International and China's Beijing Automotive (BAIC).


The future of the Nord Stream pipeline, an ambitious project to deliver Siberian gas to Europe under the Baltic Sea, will be another issue in which Medvedev will seek stronger involvement from the German government, Prikhodko said.

Russia defends the project as part of its plan to increase volumes and step up the reliability of Russian gas supplies to Europe, now largely dependent on Russia's thorny political relations with ex-Soviet Ukraine.

For many in Europe, Nord Stream is a threat to their plans to lessen reliance on supplies from Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas needs. The project has also run into ecological problems with several Baltic states.

There are two outstanding issues: Sweden and Denmark, Prikhodko said. Finland is asking questions (about ecology), but they are definitely moving in a positive direction.

We have a rather high degree of understanding with the Germans on the issue, he added. Apart from technicalities, we need to think in Munich what the governments can do to help.

Prikhodko said the Nabucco project -- an alternative, European Union-backed pipeline that would bypass Russia in taking Caspian region gas to southern Europe-- was unlikely to be discussed by Medvedev and Merkel.

We are not part of Nabucco. Neither are the Germans, he said.

Prikhodko said talks in Munich would be followed by the signing of a series of documents, including a framework document on cooperation in the energy sector.

He also said Russian Railways and Siemens would sign an accord on cooperation in creating new railway engines, while Russian state-owned bank VEB and German bank Kreditanstalt would sign a 500 million-euro deal to finance joint projects.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)