BERLIN (AP) — Vladimir Putin can expect to face pressure from the leaders of Germany and France for a change of heart on Syria when he visits Berlin and Paris on Friday — but there's little sign that the Russian president is prepared to tighten the diplomatic screws on Bashar Assad.

Putin's meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, later, with new French President Francois Hollande are part of his first foreign trip since returning to the Russian presidency.

The visit to the 17-nation eurozone's two biggest economies reflects a policy course driven primarily by Russia's economic interests.

Still, Germany and France will want to bend Putin's ear on the escalating crisis in Syria.

Russia, along with China, has twice shielded Assad's regime from United Nations sanctions over his crackdown on protests.