German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and Russian President Vladimir… (Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA )
Batting back criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the imprisonment of Pussy Riot band members, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Friday that one of the punk performers had “strung up the effigy of a Jew,” Russian state media reported.
While attending a Moscow business forum, Merkel had raised concerns about the two-year sentences for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” handed down to two band members after they staged a “punk prayer” against Putin in a Moscow cathedral.
“Having to go to a prison camp for two years for that — this would not have happened in Germany," Merkel was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.
Putin countered her criticism by saying she knew too little about the provocative band and its offenses. “Does she know that before one of them strung up the effigy of a Jew and said Moscow should be rid of such people?” he told reporters after the meeting, according to the Russian state news agency. “I do not think modern Germany should support anti-Semitism.”
Putin was apparently referring to a demonstration four years ago by the Voina radical art collective, of which jailed Pussy Riot band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was a member. Her attorney, Mark Feigin, told Bloomberg the claim was “madness,” saying the demonstration was a portrayal of how minorities were treated by the government.
The Friday meeting came one week after German lawmakers backed a bracing resolution condemning the crackdown on Russian dissidents and civil society groups since Putin resumed the presidency this spring. Russia has expanded the definition of treason, imposed tight restrictions on protests and taken other steps to clamp down on critics, triggering growing concern from its trading partner.
Dismayed, the Russian government recently refused to deal with Andreas Schockenhoff, the German special envoy on Russian issues who wrote the resolution.
“President Putin’s relationship with Chancellor Merkel has never been warm, but this time the atmosphere could be described as a political ice age,” RIA Novosti columnist Fyodor Lukyanov wrote ahead of the summit. Nonetheless, “Vladimir Putin believes that economic considerations will outweigh ideology, just as they did 60, 40 or 25 years ago.”
Despite the sparring, Putin and Merkel oversaw the signing of cooperation agreements on energy, transport, the economy and other issues.
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