German Chancellor Angela Merkel should tackle Russia on respect for human rights and democracy when she visits Moscow next week for the first time since taking office, Human Rights Watch said Friday. The advocacy group said Merkel should end what it described as her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder's policy of ignoring democratic backsliding under Russia's President Vladimir Putin. "Merkel should make clear that Germany will no longer quietly accommodate Putin's agenda of creeping authoritarianism," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia Director at New York-based Human Rights Watch. "Putting pressure on Russia to respect human rights will contribute to stability in Europe in the long run."
Since Putin took office in 2000, the Kremlin has established firm control over parliament, ended popular elections of regional governors and smothered independent media, leaving just a few outspoken radio stations and newspapers with limited audience reach. The government has also pushed through a controversial law restricting non-governmental organizations, which now awaits Putin's signature.
"Merkel should make it clear to Putin that Germany will not stand back as Russia silences NGOs," Cartner said. "Putin still has the time to stop the bill, but will only do so if he hears loudly and clearly from Russia's international partners that they will not tolerate this attack on civil society."
Merkel earlier this month expressed concern over the development of democracy in Russia, in particular singling out the NGO law, taking a decidedly cooler stance toward Moscow than her predecessor did. Schroeder, who had a close personal friendship with Putin, was often criticized at home for not using his position to help bring about more positive democratic change in Russia.
Merkel, who took office Nov. 22, said in an interview published last week that there were developments in Russia that she viewed "as cause for concern, for example the new law against non-governmental organizations." But she also stressed that Germany "needs good, stable relations with Russia" to ensure the continued flow of natural gas. Germany receives 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia.
Merkel's comments followed the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine earlier this month, which provoked a brief but alarming disruption to natural gas deliveries to Germany and other EU nations, reports the AP. N.U.