Putin and Merkel clash over 'anti-Semitic ' Pussy Riot

17.11.12 @ 10:58

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has confronted Russian leader Vladimir Putin on human rights while visiting Moscow.

  • Putin is a close friend with Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder. But relations with Merkel have been tense from the start (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Speaking at a business forum in the Russian capital on Friday (16 November), she said his recent jailing of two members of the Pussy Riot punk band, who staged an anti-government protest on the altar of a Russian church, was disproportionate.

She also said that a series of new Russian laws to curb foreign funding for NGOs and to impose harsher penalties for street protests is a step in the wrong direction.

"Having to go to a prison camp for two years for that [the church stunt] - this would not have happened in Germany," she said, according to AP.

"It won't make our friendship better if we sweep everything under the carpet and don't discuss it ... We are irritated, myself included, by a string of laws adopted by Russia recently," she added.

For his part, Putin came close to accusing Merkel of anti-Semitism.

"I wonder whether the Chancellor is aware that one of the group members once hanged an effigy of a Jew and called for Moscow to be cleansed of them ... We cannot support, with you, people who hold anti-Semitic positions," he said.

One of the jailed women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in 2008 took part in another provocative protest in which people acting as Jews, homosexuals and migrant workers - typical targets for right-wing Russian youth groups - pretended to be hanged.

Putin also indicated that Merkel is ignorant of what goes on in Russia.

"As for political and ideological issues, we hear our partners. But they hear about what's happening from very far away," he said.

The two leaders have had prickly relations for years.

But Germany is Russia's main trade partner in the EU, with the two countries doing more than €60 billion of business a year, despite the bad chemistry.

Pussy Riot the same day also came up on the other side of the Atlantic when the US Congress passed its so called "Magnitsky Bill."

The new law is designed to normalise Russia-US trade relations, but it includes an amendment forcing the state department to publicly impose travel bans and asset freezes on foreign VIPs who face credible allegations of human rights abuses.

It is named after Sergei Magnitsky - a Russian accountant who was murdered in prison in 2009 after he exposed a tax embezzlement scam by senior officials.

Republican senator Steve Cohen told the US assembly: "We must hold Magnitsky's killers accountable." He added that the Pussy Riot trial was a "farce" and that "these are exactly the sorts of victims contemplated in this legislation."

Pro-Magnitsky campaigners hope the US legislation will encourage a similar move at EU level.

EU diplomats have in the past said they cannot put travel bans on human rights abusers because they would have to sanction thousands of people around the world in order to be consistent.

Meanwhile, Russia has threatened diplomatic retaliation against the US and the EU if either side goes ahead.

But the Magnitsky bill got through Congress by a huge majority - 365 votes against 43 - despite the sabre-rattling.

It still has to go through the Senate and to be signed by US President Barack Obama before it enters into force.

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