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Germany's Merkel pays Putin a prickly visit

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"There is more distance now, psychologically and politically, between Moscow and Europe.... The Germans think that good economic relations are a gift to us, in exchange for us changing ourselves to look more as they want us to. But we think Russia is a good market that they should cultivate and appreciate. Increasingly, all this criticism calls forth irritation in Russia," he adds.

Under pressure

Ms. Merkel has been under intensifying pressure at home to get tough with the Kremlin about perceived human rights violations, including the jailing of two women from the Pussy Riot radical performance art group for singing a blasphemous song in an Orthodox church.

Last week, the German Bundestag (parliament) passed a 17-point resolution, authored by the German government's special coordinator for Russian affairs Andreas Schockenhoff, that demanded Russia observe European norms of human rights and democracy. Merkel, who faces a tough reelection bid next year, told a Moscow press conference that she had raised at least some of those issues with Putin in their private meeting Friday.

"We spoke about the situation of civil society in Russia and I expressed my concern about plans for certain laws," Merkel said, referring to draconian new Russian legislation that imposes tough penalties on public protest, a harsh requirement that nongovernmental groups that receive outside funding register as "foreign agents," and a sweeping new definition of "treason" that was signed into law by Putin this week.

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