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On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in a concluding session of the St. Petersburg Dialogue forum, where a story related to the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot evoked a strong response. Merkel doubted the necessity of such strict prison sentences for girl protesters. Moreover, the two leaders once again placed a focus on visa abolition.
The Russian and German leaders met a week after the Bundestag, the national parliament, adopted a resolution reflecting Germany’s concern over the adoption of laws on defamation, non-governmental organizations and other forms of control over active citizens, the Vedomosti business daily reported. The newspaper highlighted that three of the four questions asked by the forum’s participants concerned the atmosphere of bilateral relations, which Gazprom’s senior official Sergei Gustov described as gloomy.
“Our friendship will not improve and economic relations will not improve, if we cast a veil and pretend that we always share a common opinion,” Merkel said. The result of the day was the signing of ten memorandums and statements to expand economic cooperation.
“Against the background of hasty growth of economic ties the Russian-German relations witness degradation of political understanding, this issue baffles the Germans,” the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Politics magazine, Fyodor Lukyanov, told the daily.
“In the humanitarian sphere positions of Russia and Germany evidently have been drawing closer in the beginning of the 21st century, but recently they began to differ even widely,” said Jens Paulus, an expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
The forum proceeded in a rather positive atmosphere until Angela Merkel tried to stand up for girls from Pussy Riot. She emphasized that in Germany they would hardly get a prison sentence for what they did, Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote. Thus, she provoked Vladimir Putin’s sharp response.
“Mrs. Chancellor spoke about the girls jailed for their performance in a church. Does she know that one of them had hanged a Jew in effigy and said that Moscow should be rid of such people?” Putin asked. “Neither we, nor you, can support people who assume an anti-Semitic position,” he added.
Angela Merkel’s statement is of course, criticism of Putin-led Russia, the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily wrote. But this criticism is absolutely correct, respectful and veiled. In one word, Merkel’s reproach is not a challenge, the newspaper noted.
But Vladimir Putin did not want to simply fend off Merkel’s “blow.” He decided to nail his critics to the barn door. Meanwhile, there is no more dangerous accusation than accusation of anti-Semitism in Berlin’s political world, Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote. If Pussy Riot has been caught in something like this, no authoritative German politician would support them.
The daily emphasized that Pussy Riot can be accused of many things, but only not of anti-Semitism.
The newspaper recalled that the Russian president referred to a September 2008 performance by the radical art group Voina (War), of which two members of the punk band – Tolokonnikova and Samutsevich – were once a part. The group protested against minorities’ rights abuse and staged a mock hanging of five men in a Moscow supermarket – three migrant workers and two homosexuals, one of whom was a Jew. To accuse this action’s members of anti-Semitism – as well as of homophobia and xenophobia – is either to manipulate the facts or to demonstrate one’s own unawareness or incomprehension of the situation.
Speaking at the forum Putin traditionally focused on a visa problem expressing the hope for abolition of visa rules between Russia and the European Union, Novye Izvestiya reported.
“Visas are a natural restraint in our relations,” he said. The German chancellor responded quite predictably saying that transition to visa-free trips would take much time. “We’ve not yet achieved the goal, but we try to get easier rules,” she said adding that some amendments simplifying the process of visa issuance for Russian citizens will enter into force already in January 2013.