* Merkel raises human rights, Putin dismisses concerns
* German lawmakers worried by moves against opposition
* Both leaders underline strong economic cooperation
By Douglas Busvine and Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Nov 16 German Chancellor Angela Merkel
took Russian President Vladimir Putin to task over a clamp-down
on dissent and treatment of the Pussy Riot punk band when they
held frosty talks on Friday.
But despite the chill descending on relations, they signed a
host of economic deals underlining the importance of mutual
trade which Putin put at $72 billion in 2011, as well as
Germany's dependence on Russia as an energy supplier.
Often looking uncomfortable as they sat together at a
business forum in the Kremlin, Merkel and Putin tried to put on
a show of unity. But they could not hide their differences over
human rights and democracy at a news conference.
Merkel was particularly blunt in her criticism. She said she
had expressed concern about the passage of laws that could be
used to stifle dissent since Putin returned to the presidency in
May after four years as prime minister.
"We spoke about the situation of civil society in Russia and
I expressed my concern about plans for certain laws," Merkel
told the joint news conference with Putin in the Kremlin.
"I think we need to speak openly and honestly about these
issues. This dialogue is a precondition for understanding each
other and identifying the conflicts."
Putin, who this year has faced the biggest protests since
his political domination of the world's largest country began in
2000, said Western powers did not fully understand Russia.
"As for political and ideological issues, we hear our
partners. But they hear about what's happening from very far
away," he said.
Merkel made clear she regarded as overly harsh the jailing
of two women from the Pussy Riot band who staged an anti-Putin
protest in February in Moscow's main Russian Orthodox church.
But the Kremlin chief said Pussy Riot had offended believers
and accused one of the band of taking part in what he said was
an anti-Semitic protest by another radical group called Voina
which pretended to hang a Jew in a supermarket.
"We need to understand what sort of people we are dealing
with. I don't think that modern-day Germany should support
anti-Semitism," he said.
Pussy Riot quickly denied the allegation, saying the Voina
protest was not anti-Semitic and was intended to draw attention
to the abuse of migrant workers and homosexuals, and Putin's
comment quickly became the object of satire on social media.
OLD FOES, NEW FRIENDS
Relations between Berlin and Moscow, long strained by
memories of World War Two and ideological differences during the
Cold War, warmed up after the collapse of communist rule and the
fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But Putin, a German speaker who spent five years in Dresden
for the KGB, has never had as strong a relationship with Merkel
as with her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder.
Germany's parliament last week expressed concern at the
state of human rights in Russia and urged Merkel to raise the
problems with Putin, in a resolution that contributed to the
growing chill in relations.
Laws brought in since Putin was elected president for a
six-year third term in March included legislation increasing
control of the Internet and a law broadening the definition of
treason which was enacted this week.
Putin defended the freedom of information in Russia and the
independence of the judiciary. Dismissing any comparison with
Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's show trials of political enemies,
he said: "It's not 1937 here."
But despite their differences, Germany and Russia have
managed to keep business ties on track. Germany's dependence on
Russia for 40 percent of its gas and 30 percent of its oil also
means Merkel must also be mindful of the damage any criticism of
Russia over human rights could do to German business interests.
Berlin is wary of angering Moscow because it could provoke
it into reducing energy supplies to Europe in retaliation, as
has happened before during Russian price disputes with its
"We want Russia to succeed ... Our ideas don't always
coincide, but what matters is that we listen to each other,"
Merkel said, underlining that more than 6,000 German firms
operate in Russia.
She said Germany needed Russia for raw materials such as gas
and oil, while Moscow needed Berlin to help in modernisation,
infrastructure and health care.
Deals concluded during the visit included Russian Railways
signing a letter of intent to buy nearly 700
locomotives from Germany's Siemens for about 2.5
billion euros ($3.2 billion).
The European Union has challenged the pricing policy of
state energy export monopoly Gazprom, and opened an
investigation into whether this policy is fair. Putin complained
about this again at the news conference but there appeared to be
no new developments in the dispute.