Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, congratulates Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl as he attends the wedding of Kneissl with with Austrian businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in Gamlitz, southern Austria, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2018. (Roland Schlager/pool photo via AP)

Putin dances at Austria wedding before meeting Merkel

August 18, 2018 - 10:37 am

BERLIN (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin made a flying visit to Austria to attend the wedding of the country's foreign minister Saturday before heading to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Austrian authorities imposed tight security measures around the site of the ceremony near the southern border with Slovenia, where Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl married her partner Wolfgang Meilinger, a businessman. Kneissl, an independent, was nominated by the pro-Russia Austrian Freedom Party, whose leaders also attended the wedding.

Photos showed Putin dancing with the bride, who was dressed in traditional Austrian costume. According to Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Putin also brought a small Cossack men's choir along to entertain about 100 guests at the wedding.

Austrian lawmaker Joerg Leichtfried of the opposition Social Democratic Party criticized Kneissl's decision to invite Putin to the wedding, saying it called into question Austria's role as a neutral intermediary in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels are battling government forces. Austria currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency.

Putin's meeting with Merkel late Saturday takes place at the German government's guesthouse in Meseberg, north of Berlin. Topics during the bilateral talks include Ukraine, Syria and the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that the United States and some European countries object to.

The two leaders were scheduled to make statements before the talks, but there were no plans for a news conference afterward.

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