* Cameron and Putin watch Olympic judo: Russia takes gold
* Russia and Britain still divided over Syria - PM Cameron
* Putin says Pussy Riot punk band should not be judged too
* Putin avoids stunts, but refuses to budge on Syria
By Maria Golovnina and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON, Aug 2 Fresh from cheering a Russian judo
star to a gold medal at the Olympic Games, President Vladimir
Putin urged leniency on Thursday for members of a female punk
band on trial for protesting against him at the altar of a
Putin told Interfax news agency that there was "nothing
good" about the protest by the band Pussy Riot, which outraged
many Russian Orthodox believers on the eve of Putin's latest
presidential election win.
"Nonetheless, I don't think that they should be judged so
harshly for this," Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying.
"I hope the court will come out with the right decision, a
well-founded one," Putin was quoted as saying.
Such comments from Russia's most powerful man are likely to
ensure that the women's band do not get long prison sentences,
though he did not define what he meant by "harshly".
Putin, who has ruled Russia since the turn of the century,
is facing international criticism for trying to silence dissent.
He was speaking after watching fellow countryman Tagir
Khaibulaev win Russia's third judo gold of the London Games, a
victory that prompted Putin to leap to his feet in delight.
At 45 minutes of talks at Downing Street, for which Putin
put in an unusually punctual appearance, Prime Minister David
Cameron raised the issues of Syria and the fate of Pussy Riot.
But Cameron failed to get Putin to take a tougher public
line on Syria, Russia's firmest foothold in the Middle East, or
a pledge to stop blocking Western-backed resolutions aimed at
stepping up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.
In a stark illustration of the still frosty ties between
Britain and Russia, Putin used his stretched,
Russian-number-plated black Mercedes limousine to travel to the
judo, while Cameron used his armoured grey Jaguar.
BLACK BELT PUTIN JUBILANT
For the 59-year-old Kremlin chief, who revels in his
hard-man image, the sight of judokas body-slamming each other on
the Olympic mats offered a powerful backdrop to his talks and
the opportunity for a stunt.
A black belt and one-time judo champion in his native city
of St Petersburg, Putin talked animatedly with Cameron through a
translator as they watched, and appeared to be explaining the
sport to his host.
The former KGB spy rushed down to the mats to congratulate
Khaibulaev, embracing him with a Russian bear hug and then
posing for photographs while Russians, one even dressed in a
white fur hat, waved the Russian red, blue and white flag
embossed with the two headed Russian eagle.
Russia had not won a judo gold since the 1991 break-up of
the Soviet Union so the London Games are by far their most
successful games in the sport since then.
Russia's leader appeared elated at the win and in good
spirits on his first trip to Britain since the 2006 death from
radiation poisoning in London of Kremlin critic Alexander
Ties between the two countries have been frosty because of
Russia's refusal to extradite the chief suspect in the murder.
"He (Putin) is not welcome in London, neither by Russians
who live here or Londoners themselves," Litvinenko's widow,
Marina, who lives in Britain, told Reuters.
Putin's last visit to London was in 2003, though he attended
the Group of Eight summit in 2005 at Gleneagles in Scotland.
In previous foreign trips, Putin has showed off his judo
skills on the mats. This time, despite a plea from London Mayor
Boris Johnson, he stayed in his dark business suit.
"Oh, I hope he will take part. What is he, a dab (hand)? I
think that's what we want to see, stripped to the waist. We want
the politicians' Olympics, that's what we want," Johnson said.
Putin is facing criticism in Moscow for trying to silence
dissent after the Pussy Riot case and the charging of a
prominent opposition blogger, Alexei Navalny, with embezzlement.
As he entered the prime minister's office in central London,
a protester's shout of "Free Pussy Riot" echoed across Downing
In a letter in The Times newspaper, a dozen leading rock
musicians including Jarvis Cocker urged Putin to give a fair
trial to the group, whose members face up to seven years in jail
for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility".
Andrey Sidelnikov, one of a handful of protesters outside
Downing Street, was wearing a "Free Pussy Riot" t-shirt.
"We don't want to see Putin in a democratic country, and we
want to send a message to Cameron about supporting political
prisoners in Russia," he said. "In a real democracy you can't be
sent to prison for singing a song."
Russia has faced growing Western criticism of its position
on Syria, with the United States and Britain demanding Moscow
drop its support for Assad.
Western powers believe that ousting Assad is the only way to
end the bloodshed in Syria, though diplomats say privately that
there is little appetite in Western capitals for direct military
Russia, on the other hand, provides arms to Damascus and has
blocked three Western resolutions calling for an increase in
pressure on Assad.