* Merkel to visit Moscow on Friday, meet Putin
* German lawmakers want her to press Putin on human rights
* Relations chilly although economic cooperation strong
By Darya Korsunskaya and Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Nov 15 The Kremlin denounced a rise in
anti-Russian rhetoric in Germany on Thursday before a visit by
Chancellor Angela Merkel and made clear that Vladimir Putin
would stand his ground if she lectures him on human rights.
Merkel is expected to carry out a request by Germany's
parliament to press Putin on Friday over what critics call a
crackdown on dissent since his May return to the
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov signalled that Putin would
defend his position and, despite intensifying talk of a chill in
relations, said that economic ties were strong enough to ensure
Russia's relationship with Berlin stays on track.
"We are well aware of the heightened anti-Russian rhetoric
in Germany in recent weeks or even months. We are aware of the
demands Mrs Merkel faces from Bundestag deputies and others to
raise various human rights and democracy issues with Putin,"
Peskov told reporters.
"As always, President Putin will explain in detail whatever
remains unclear and will ask his own questions," he said.
Merkel has never enjoyed as strong a relationship with Putin
as her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, but business and trade
ties between their countries have remained close.
Pressure has increased on her, however, to question Putin on
human rights following the biggest protests against his rule
since he first rose to power in 2000 and the introduction of
laws which critics say are intended to smother the opposition.
Criticism of Putin, who served for five years as a KGB spy
in Dresden, has fuelled talk of frosty relations between the two
European powers, especially as Putin has bristled at what he
regards as attempts to teach him about democracy.
Peskov put the increase in anti-Russian sentiment down to
what he said was point-scoring at the start of campaigning for
Germany's federal election next year.
"We would not wish to see Russian-German relations used in
this way because the relationship is unique in its scope, in its
diversity and in its very promising prospects," he said.
Expressing faith in the reliability of mutual trade, which
he described as a safety cushion, he said: "Eighty-seven billion
dollars in (annual) bilateral trade provide this 'air bag'. With
such a solid foundation, we can be calm."
Among deals to be clinched during Merkel's visit, Russian
Railways will sign a letter of intent to buy nearly
700 locomotives from Germany's Siemens for about 2.5
billion euros ($3.2 billion), sources told Reuters.
LIMITS ON CIVIL SOCIETY
Merkel will be accompanied by eight ministers, including
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Finance Minister Wolfgang
Schauble, and a high-level business delegation.
International security issues such as the crisis in Syria
and Iran's nuclear programme are expected to be on the agenda.
Merkel will also report on the state of Europe's debt crisis,
but human rights issues look certain to feature prominently.
Senior German officials in Berlin said on Thursday a
resolution approved last week by German parliamentarians
expressing alarm at the state of human rights in Russia broadly
reflected Merkel's stance and that of her government.
The West condemned Russia's jailing of members of punk band
Pussy Riot for an anti-Putin protest in Moscow's main cathedral,
although the German town of Wittenberg was criticised for
nominating the group for a freedom of speech prize in October.
One senior German official said steps to limit civil society
in Russia would be an "important theme".
Critics say such moves include the enactment on Wednesday of
legislation broadening the definition of treason which could be
used by Putin to try to stifle dissent.
"If there are new limits (on civil society), then naturally
this is a concern for the chancellor and she will speak about
it," the aide said.
Russia's Foreign Ministry has already hit out at Andreas
Schockenhoff, Merkel's envoy for civil society ties between
Russia and Germany and a sponsor of parliament's motion,
refusing to recognise him as a German government representative.
"There is a growing group of Russian citizens who will not
accept a ban on their freedom of expression," Schockenhoff told
reporters in Moscow on Thursday.
Germany gets 40 percent of its gas and 30 percent of its oil
from Russia, and German officials made clear that Moscow
remained a "strategic partner".
But they dodged a question about whether Merkel and Putin
had a good personal relationship.
"They have known each other for many years. But I wouldn't
want to say anything about the nature of their relationship,"