MOSCOW – A senior German lawmaker urged Russia on Wednesday to end its crackdown on civil society ahead of talks between the two countries' leaders.
Andreas Schockenhoff, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Kremlin's moves "intimidate the engagement of active, creative citizens instead of encouraging them."
Schockenhoff, who is also the German envoy overseeing contacts between Russian and German civil societies, urged President Vladimir Putin to "allow NGOs to have a public debate, a public competition of opinions about the future of the country."
"(They) are not a threat to the Russian state," he told the AP. "We see more and more suspicion against contacts with foreigners, and I think that isolates Russia."
Germany is Russia's major trade partner, and Merkel has faced pressure at home and abroad to focus more closely on Russia's worsening human rights situation.
Germany's parliament last week passed a resolution penned by Schockenhoff that urged Merkel to raise concerns about human rights in Russia at her meeting Friday with Putin. The move, which linked Russia's rollback on democratic freedoms to Putin's return to the Kremlin in May, has angered Moscow, and prompted the Russian foreign ministry to accuse Schockenhoff of making defamatory comments.
The Human Rights Watch group issued a similar appeal to Merkel, saying "there has never been a more important time to put human rights front and center of Germany's relationship with Russia."
Russia is hoping that Germany, which is involved in a number of lucrative joint energy projects with Russia, could help the country modernize its economy by sharing technology and bringing investment to Russia.
Schockenhoff, however, said for Germany "modernization is more than technological innovation," adding that Berlin views a respect for human rights as important as economic ties.
"Modernization is comprehensive: it must address questions of the rule of law, competition of opinions, freedom of expression," Schockenhoff said.