During his official visit to Austria - which starts on Thursday - the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, is expected to renew his country´s offer to sell MiG 29 fighter jets to Austria - which needs to replace its ageing fighter fleet. The Russian MiG concern has already offered to sell the latest MiG 29´s to Austria - with the company´s Deputy Director General Gennadii Arhipov stating that their jets are the cheapest in the sector and were highly reliable. Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Minister of Defence Herbert Scheibner have recently stated that Austria´s ageing Swedish Saab-Draken jets should be replaced. Arhipov has proposed different options concerning payment for the jets, such as a partial or total cancellation of Russia´s debt to Austria. Another possibility would be the production of MiG 110 civil aircrafts in Austria. MiG representative in Austria, Norbert Loebl, said possible locations for their production could be Wiener Neustadt, Carinthia, Upper Austria or Styria. Carinthia´s Governor Joerg Haider was reported to have expressed interest in producing civil MiG planes in his province. Internal sources also expect that during his official visit to Austria, the Russian President will also renew the discussion over Austria´s neutrality. Recently, the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, Alexander Golovin, had strongly criticised the neutrality policy of the Austrian Government. "We consider Austria as a neutral state. The Russian Federation is interested (to ensure that) the current state of Austria will remain as it is," Golovin was quoted by the weekly ´Format´ magazine as saying. In connections with the discussions over the neutrality and joining of NATO, Golovin has said: "Such spreading of military alliances, in which we do not participate, close to our borders, means a threat to Russia." Foreign Affairs Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner reacted immediately to the Ambassador´s criticism by saying that the neutrality issue was purely an Austrian matter. The VP President of the Parliament Werner Fasslabend even qualified it as "interference in Austrian constitutional issues".

According to the programme of Putin´s official visit to Austria, on Friday he will lay flowers on the Red Army monument in Vienna. Afterwards Putin will meet the President of the Austrian Parliament Heinz Fischer, the SP leader Alfred Gusenbauer and the leader of the Green Party Alexander Van der Bellen. He will also visit the Austrian Chamber of Commerce on the same day and will fly to Innsbruck in the evening with his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil.

Putin, who will come with his wife Ludmila, is then scheduled to meet Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel at St. Christoph am Arlberg.

The Russian President and his wife have booked a whole floor in a five-star hotel in St. Christoph. Experts in explosives, security men and technicians have already "checked" and "prepared" the hotel for Putin´s visit. A special telephone line, which cannot be tapped, was also installed in his apartment. (JD)