Germany and Russia clash on human rights, build trade

Fri Nov 16, 2012 12:57pm EST
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By Douglas Busvine and Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel took Russian President Vladimir Putin to task over a clamp-down on dissent and treatment of the Pussy Riot punk band when they held frosty talks on Friday.

But despite the chill descending on relations, they signed a host of economic deals underlining the importance of mutual trade which Putin put at $72 billion in 2011, as well as Germany's dependence on Russia as an energy supplier.

Often looking uncomfortable as they sat together at a business forum in the Kremlin, Merkel and Putin tried to put on a show of unity. But they could not hide their differences over human rights and democracy at a news conference.

Merkel was particularly blunt in her criticism. She said she had expressed concern about the passage of laws that could be used to stifle dissent since Putin returned to the presidency in May after four years as prime minister.

"We spoke about the situation of civil society in Russia and I expressed my concern about plans for certain laws," Merkel told the joint news conference with Putin in the Kremlin.

"I think we need to speak openly and honestly about these issues. This dialogue is a precondition for understanding each other and identifying the conflicts."

Putin, who this year has faced the biggest protests since his political domination of the world's largest country began in 2000, said Western powers did not fully understand Russia.

"As for political and ideological issues, we hear our partners. But they hear about what's happening from very far away," he said.   Continued...

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their meeting in Moscow's Kremlin November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Yuri Kochetkov/Pool