BERLIN German lawmakers expressed alarm on Friday at the state of human rights in Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in May and urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to press Moscow on its treatment of critics when she visits next week.
A parliamentary motion, written by Merkel's center-right coalition parties, asks the German government to campaign for greater democracy and rule of law in Russia, as well as seeking just treatment for anti-Putin campaigners such as jailed members of the punk group Pussy Riot.
Although the motion is non-binding it increases the pressure on Merkel to take a tougher stand on Russia - which has close energy and trade ties with Germany - although this could strain her relations with Putin, which have never been warm.
"Russia has taken legislative and judicial measures since May 7 aiming to control active citizens, criminalize critical engagement and create a confrontational course with government critics," Andreas Schockenhoff, a lawmaker from Merkel's Christian Democrats, told parliament.
Putin was sworn in as president on May 7, returning to a post he had held from 2000-2008 after serving four years as prime minister. Since then he has clamped down on dissent.
"When... democratic standards are reversed, rule of law is restricted and repressive tendencies are accentuated, we can't stand by indifferently. It fills us with deep concern," said Schockenhoff, the government's co-ordinator for Russian and German civil ties. However, he said that far from isolating Moscow, Germany wanted to strengthen relations.
Merkel will hold talks with Putin on November 16, before a larger group of Russian and German ministers discuss energy and business ties. Germany is a major exporter to Russia and depends on Russian oil and gas for a large part of its energy needs.
Merkel will therefore be wary of alienating a man who bristles at being lectured from abroad.
Her visit to Russia coincides with the end of the Petersburg Dialogue, an annual conference in which German and Russian business people, lawmakers and civil organizations discuss the state of their relations and areas for development.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has already hit out at Schockenhoff, saying it refuses to recognize him as a representative of the German government. Schockenhoff is due to chair discussions on civil society at the Petersburg Dialogue.
Schockenhoff told Reuters this week the motion was not a form of meddling but rather showed German lawmakers wanting to encourage what he described as a very lively discussion taking place in Russia itself.
Berlin has grown increasingly disappointed with Russia's course under Putin and his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev, who is now prime minister.
By contrast, Merkel's predecessor, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, cultivated a hearty rapport with Putin, referring to him as a "flawless democrat".
Schroeder now works as chairman of Russian gas producer Gazprom's Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. He has adopted two children from Russia.
(Editing by Gareth Jones and David Stamp)