Kohl sets out to woo Yeltsin with home comforts: Germans hope to ease hurt Russian feelings over Berlin celebrations, writes Steve Crawshaw from Bonn

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The Independent Online
BORIS YELTSIN, who arrives in Germany for a three-day visit today, can be pleased in one respect at least. He will be received by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in his home town, Oggersheim. There the Russian President will be offered pig's stomach (a Kohl favourite) and will sample the local wine.

The meal may sound gastronomically questionable, but it is symbolically important. Only Mr Kohl's most honoured guests are invited to Oggersheim: previous recipients of his private hospitality have included Mikhail Gorbachev, Francois Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher (Lady Thatcher was notably unimpressed; she appeared to feel that such simple pleasures were unbecoming for a statesperson).

So Mr Yeltsin is unambiguously on the A-list. He can expect that Mr Kohl will be sympathetic to his domestic political problems. Admittedly, nothing can ever quite match the love affair that Germany enjoyed with Mr Gorbachev, who will always be fondly remembered for allowing German unity to take place without a shot being fired.

None the less, Mr Yeltsin is respected, and Bonn is keen to see him stay in power. Germany has poured more money into Russia than other Western countries and, mindful of its own history, is acutely conscious of the danger presented by Vladimir Zhirinovsky if Russia descends into social and economic chaos. An article about Mr Zhirinovsky in the leading weekly Die Zeit was headlined simply: 'Sein Kampf' ('His struggle').

But, though Germany and Russia are keen to find a friendly relationship, some of the talks over the next few days will be difficult. Russia is indignant that Moscow is, in effect, being excluded from the goodbye- and-thank-you party being held for the British, French and American Allies when their troops leave Berlin. Mr Yeltsin wants the Russians to be invited, and for all the Allies to be treated as equals. Bonn insists that that is unthinkable. There will be a farewell for the Russian troops at the end of August. Then, a week later, comes the farewell to the Western Allies. Bonn is determined not to merge the two occasions.

Rudolf Scharping, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, has backed Mr Kohl on this issue - though some east German Social Democrats have argued that bygones should be allowed to be bygones, and that the Russians should be equal partners in the farewell ceremonies, in order not to 'hurt the pride of the former victorious power', in the words of a statement issued at the weekend.

Despite Mr Yeltsin's public irritation at the present arrangements, Mr Kohl seems unlikely to back down. Curiously, the row is in some respects a mirror-image of the arguments that have taken place in recent months over the D-Day anniversary commemorations in June.

In Normandy, it was Chancellor Kohl who wanted an invitation to the Main Event, arguing that the ceremonies should emphasise reconciliation, not the war; but he was frozen out by the Allies. Now it is Mr Kohl's turn to freeze out the Russians, using similar arguments about inappropriateness, while at the same time trying to smooth ruffled feathers - as the British and the French tried to do with him.

The question of who gets invited to what will not be the only point of irritation during this week's talks. There are continuing arguments over art treasures looted from Germany at the end of the Second World War, and now in Russia.

Some are to be returned, but many more look set to remain in Moscow.