New chill in German-Russian ties before Merkel visit

Wed Nov 7, 2012 8:08am EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Two years in age separate Vladimir Putin, the German-speaking former KGB agent who spent five years in Dresden in East Germany's twilight years, from Angela Merkel, the Russian-speaking physicist who grew up near East Berlin.

But familiarity with each other's languages and countries, and a common childhood experience east of the Iron Curtain, have never produced close personal relations.

Now these look poised for a new chill.

Putin's return as president six months ago and his crackdown on dissent are fuelling calls in Germany to adopt a more critical stance towards Moscow and for Merkel to demonstrate this when she visits the 60-year-old Russian this month.

On Friday, lawmakers from the German chancellor's center-right coalition will present a motion insisting that Berlin voice its alarm at recent developments in Russia, urge greater democracy, and champion the rights of imprisoned anti-Putin campaigners such as punk group Pussy Riot.

"Parliament notes with mounting concern that, since President Vladimir Putin's return to office, legislative and judicial measures are being taken which combine towards increasing control over active citizens, criminalizing critical engagement and creating a confrontation course against government critics," a copy seen by Reuters reads.

Raising such issues could play well at home for Merkel, who faces an election next year. Forty-one percent of Germans see Russia as "not democratic at all", and another 45 percent as "not particularly democratic", according to a February survey.

The fate of protesters has been closely followed in Germany, home to 200,000 Russian citizens and 2.5 million ethnic Germans who immigrated from the former Soviet Union.   Continued...

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin before talks at the Chancellery in Berlin, June 1, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter