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Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev Visit the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, center right, his wife Svetlana,right, give a painting to Mgr Patrick Jacquin as they visit the Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, Tuesday March 2, 2010. Russia and France took their courtship to a new level in Paris on Monday, entering talks about the sale of four French warships to Moscow, standing together against nuclear-minded Iran and urging a new global financial order. AP Photo/Christophe Ena.

By: Angela Charlton, Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP).- The presidents of Russia and France are turning their attention away from modern warships and toward 1,000-year-old icons Tuesday as the Louvre Museum pulls out the stops for Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Paris.

Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy moved closer to a major military deal and oversaw accords giving France more access to Russian gas during the first day of the Russian president's state visit Monday. On Tuesday, Medvedev looked on as top executives from some of Russia's largest banks, mining and aerospace firms met the head of France's business lobby.

With the key diplomatic and economic work of Medvedev's visit over, the Russian president and his wife turned to cultural pursuits.

The two visited Paris' Notre Dame cathedral.

Svetlana Medvedeva toured an exhibit of oil paintings and watercolors by young Russian artists, joined by French Culture Minister Francois Mitterrand and his Russian counterpart, Alexander Avdeev — and French singer Mireille Mathieu, who is adored in Russia. Mathieu spoke a few words in Russian, while the Russian first lady conversed with other visitors in French.

The paintings reflected a romantic view of Russia, with images of wooden izbas, or cottages, and vibrant peasant scarves and impressionist-inspired views of the Volga River valley — and little sign of the intensity and dynamic edge of today's Moscow.

Later, Medvedev and Sarkozy were being given special access to the Louvre, closed to the public Tuesdays, for a sneak peek at one of the museum's top exhibits this year.

"Holy Russia" showcases 900 years of Russian art, from icons from the early years of Russian Orthodox Christianity to the masterpieces of Andrei Rublev in the 15th century up to canvases from the early reign of western-looking Peter the Great. The vast collection was pieced together from monasteries and museums around Russia.

Not far from the official Russian splendors on display at the Louvre, the Russian opposition held its own exhibit.

In a small gallery tucked away in a narrow street not far from the Opera a series of drawings and paintings done by Russian artists during the courtroom appearances of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of the Yukos oil giant who is serving an eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion, are on display.

Despite diplomatic concerns about the Russian leadership's suppression of critics and sway over its former Soviet neighbors, France is mindful of the economic and strategic payoffs of closer ties with Russia.

Russia "is a country in which we are confident and proud to invest," said Laurence Parisot, the head of French business lobby MEDEF.

Paris welcomed the Russian visitors with flair. Medvedev arrived in the French capital by helicopter, and scores of golden-helmeted Republican Guards on horseback led his limousine across the Alexandre III bridge, named for the second-to-last czar. On Tuesday, guards on horseback lined up for Medvedev's arrival at the Paris City Hall.

On Monday, Medvedev and Sarkozy entered talks about selling four French Mistral-class warships to Moscow, in what would be the biggest ever arms sale by a NATO country to Russia.


Associated Press writers Deborah Seward and Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Paris | Louvre | Notre Dame Cathedral | Nicolas Sarkozy | Dmitry Medvedev |

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