* 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 Douglas Busvine and Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Nov 16 German Chancellor Angela Merkel
will complain to President Vladimir Putin on Friday about a
crackdown on political freedoms in Russia at talks likely to
deepen a chill between the two big European powers.
Merkel has been asked by the German parliament to express
concern about the state of human rights in Russia since the
former KGB spy returned to the presidency for a six-year third
term in May.
Putin's spokesman hit back on Thursday by denouncing a rise
in "anti-Russian rhetoric" in Germany and signalled that the
Kremlin leader would stand his ground if Merkel tried to lecture
him on democracy and human rights.
But senior German government officials said a resolution
agreed last week by the Bundestag expressing alarm over human
rights and the threat to civil society in Russia broadly
reflected the views of Merkel and her government.
"If there are new limits (on civil society), then naturally
this is a concern for the chancellor and she will speak about
it," one senior government official said.
Conservative German lawmaker Andreas Schockenhoff, a
government envoy overseeing relations with Russian society, said
there was a "climate of fear" in Russia and attempts to control
society from above would fail.
"There is a growing group of Russian citizens who will not
accept a ban on their freedom of expression," he told reporters
in Moscow, unbowed by criticism from the Russian Foreign
Ministry which no longer recognises him as a government envoy.
Although Putin, now 60, won a presidential election in March
with almost two-thirds of the votes, he has in the past year
faced the biggest protests since he first rose to power in 2000
and has been trying to undermine the opposition.
Critics say his moves include the passage of laws intended
to stifle dissent, such as legislation that went into force on
Wednesday broadening the definition of treason.
The West also condemned Putin over the jailing of members of
the punk protest band Pussy Riot after their irreverent protest
against him 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.
BUSINESS TIES PROVIDE AN AIR BAG
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia was aware that
Merkel would raise human rights and democracy during her visit,
which coincides with a regular Russo-German forum.
"As always, President Putin will explain in detail whatever
remains unclear and will ask his own questions," he said.
Putin is a German speaker and worked for five years for the
KGB in Dresden. Merkel has never enjoyed as strong a
relationship with him as her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, but
business ties between the countries are close.
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.
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.
Merkel will be accompanied by eight ministers, including
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Finance Minister Wolfgang
Schaeuble, 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.
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,"