Russia needs active civil society, Merkel tells Putin

HANOVER, Germany Sun Apr 7, 2013 4:44pm EDT

1 of 2. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for photographers before they officially open the Hanover Messe, industrial trade fair, in Hanover April 7, 2013. Russia is the partner country of the Hanover fair 2013, which runs from April 8 -12.

Credit: Reuters/Fabian Bimmer

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HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Germany on Sunday to protests over his human rights and democracy record and a warning from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Russia needed an active civil society to flourish.

Putin's visit to Germany and the Netherlands, Moscow's biggest trade partners in Europe, was supposed to focus on trade but comes at an awkward time after a wave of state inspections of foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia, much criticized abroad.

In her address at the opening of an industrial fair spotlighting Russian business, Merkel told Putin Russia was propped by its raw material deposits and huge investment in infrastructure but Germany could help it in its aims to innovate and diversify.

"We believe this can happen most successfully when there is an active civil society," she said.

"We must intensify these discussions, develop our ideas, and we must give the NGOs, who we know as a motor for innovation, a good chance in Russia," she added to strong applause.

Germany and the Netherlands need Russia for energy and as a market for exports ranging from Volkswagen Touaregs to tulips, but are uneasy about the influence its oil and gas give it and about Putin's treatment of opponents and activists in his new Kremlin term.

Merkel had come under pressure at home to voice her concerns to Putin, not only on the inspections of NGOs, but also on their differences over Syria's civil war and Russian criticism of the German-orchestrated financial bailout of Cyprus. Her talks with Putin would include "controversial subjects" she told reporters on the sidelines of the fair.

In his address to the trade fair Putin focused on Russia's economic strength, noting, "despite global disarray and the global financial crisis, our country has continued to develop positively."

Outside hundreds of protesters gathered, many carrying Syrian flags, others wearing devil masks or waving images of Putin dressed in a prisoner's striped uniform. "Stop political terror," read one banner.

In an earlier interview with German broadcaster ARD, Putin had dismissed criticism of the NGO inspections and said they would not cast a shadow over the visit, echoing his repeated rejection of Western worries about his domestic policies.

Putin - a former Soviet KGB officer who was stationed in East Germany, where Merkel grew up - has accused Western states of using NGOs to spy on Russia and influence politics.

He said in the interview that Russians have a right to know which NGOs are foreign-funded "and for what purposes".

He sent warmer signals on economic issues, expressing confidence in the euro and toning down criticism of the Cyprus bailout by saying he hoped more money would flow into Russia as a result.

(Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Comments (3)
reality-again wrote:
Putin would probably need to check the meaning of ‘civil society’ on Wikipedia

Apr 07, 2013 4:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
OneOfTheSheep wrote:
Since Putin popped up like a nightmare whack-a-mole to “lead” Russia, it has become obvious that his KGB friends and other political allies not only yearn for the “good old days” of the cold war. They are methodically investing much of their natural resource revenue in rebuilding the military capability necessary to actually go down that path again.

He and the idiot in North Korea are proof positive that man’s very nature is to push and strut and shove each other so a few can dominate and exercise control over the many.  It seems when the surface is scratched, we are all “power junkies”; from the mother and dominant wife, the gamer, the pimp, the carjacker, the teacher, the administrator, the doctor, the politician and the financier.  

That which is “inherently good” in man is as rare as the gold in dirt, and our only individual hope of avoiding self-destruction is a lifetime of effort to constrain and overcome that which we are.

Apr 07, 2013 5:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
chyron wrote:
1st. NGO. I personally like to hear “opposition” radio “Echo of Moscow” while driving to work as nothing can give more lulz than their panic – considering their arrogance and malice toward everything russian or soviet. Though as most of ‘em are of “ethnical background that must not be named” i somehow believe they could be patriots…just not of our country – and there were numerous precedents of double citizenship.
Sorry guys, but i’ve checked numerous times – most of what _these_ vocal NGO do and say is either outright lie or masterfully spun to reflect views and wishes of either very select groups or foreign governments. So if “russian FARA” really hurts them – then it is good.

2.Syria and Cyprus and gas. Solving YOUR problems at OUR expense is not something to be taken lightly. Insulting seller during haggling…is counterproductive. And i can already say who won from all this – our fair pocker-faced eastern neghbours, People’s Republic of China.
Though i think Putin did victory dance (in private) the moment european terms for Cyprus bailout became public **. As for russian accounts on Cyprus…well, two phrases “told’ya so, dumbass busynessmen!” and “hmm, symmetric answer? Sounds interesting” definitely warmed his heart that moment.
** number of people commented “who could assume that EU is willing to neuter itself with rusty dull knife?!”

Apr 07, 2013 6:15pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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