Germany complains to Russia over NGO raids
Germany on Tuesday expressed its "concern" to the number two envoy of the Russian embassy in Berlin over fresh raids against pro-democracy NGOs as part of what activists have called a crackdown.
A foreign ministry source said the Russian diplomat Oleg Krasnitzki, second in rank behind the ambassador to Berlin, had been "invited" for a conversation at the request of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
"The concern of the German government in light of the concerted action against several non-governmental organisations including political foundations was conveyed to him," the source said.
In diplomatic terms, the invitation marked a clear form of protest but stopped short of a formal summons to the ministry.
The move came as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), a political think tank with close ties to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said its St Petersburg offices were the target of a second search after raids last week.
It said security forces confiscated computers, citing checks for proper software licensing.
"This morning's intrusion is alarming and in no way acceptable," KAS president Hans-Gert Poettering, a former speaker of the European Parliament, said in a statement.
"This interference in our work can lead to a strain in our (diplomatic) relations with Russia."
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the raids, along with other measures, pointed to a trend in Russia that was "deeply troubling".
"The inspections and searches launched against the Russian NGO community and conducted on vague legal grounds are worrisome since they seem to be aimed at further undermining civil society activities in the country," she said in a statement.
The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, linked to Germany's main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), said it has faced similar treatment at its Moscow office.
Westerwelle had condemned the initial raids Friday, saying he was "very concerned" by developments.
The foreign ministry then warned Monday that further measures against German groups "could weigh on bilateral relations in a lasting way".
More than 100 NGOs including rights group Amnesty International have undergone similar checks in recent days, according to activists in Russia.
A controversial law passed in 2012 requires NGOs that have Western donors and are involved in political activities to register as "foreign agents" and display this title when carrying out any public activity.
Meanwhile Merkel's challenger in the September general election, Peer Steinbrueck of the SPD, came to Russia's defence, saying Moscow was a partner "whose interests we know well and respect".
"We need to admit in that context that our Western standards of pluralist democracy cannot be applied directly to Russia," he told the website of news weekly Die Zeit, warning against "pillorying" Moscow over rights abuses.
He said such problems were better discussed behind closed doors.
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, has been an outspoken critic of a Russian clampdown on civil society under President Vladimir Putin.
Germany and Russia have extremely lucrative trade ties. Merkel and Putin will meet in the northern German city of Hanover next month at an industry fair.
© 2013 AFP