Medvedev blasts 'cowardice' of German Putin prize reversal
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday slammed a decision to cancel a private German democracy prize for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as a sign of "cowardice".
"When you have already taken a decision to award a prize, it is taken and reversing that shows cowardice and inconsistency," he told reporters after a joint cabinet meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"I think after such a decision this prize is finished, at least for the international community.
"Of course it is Germany's headache and not Russia's," he added.
A private foundation that awards the Quadriga prize each October 3, the anniversary of German reunification, to "role models for enlightenment, dedication and the public good" had earlier this month selected Putin as this year's winner.
The announcement sparked a wave of protest in Berlin and beyond over Putin's disputed record on human rights, media freedom and the Chechnya conflict.
Critics noted the award could boost Putin ahead of the Russian presidential election scheduled for March. He has not yet announced whether he will stand.
On Saturday, the organisers bowed to what they called "unbearable" pressure, including a threat by the 2009 laureate, former Czech president Vaclav Havel, to return the prize, and called off this year's ceremony.
Merkel insisted the u-turn over the prize had not overshadowed the talks.
"The Quadriga (prize) was not an issue where I had to ask for something," she said, when asked if she had had to appeal for "understanding" during her meetings with Medvedev. "Rather, it was simply noted."
In Moscow, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had played down the flap Saturday, insisting it would not affect relations between the two countries and that the government would "treat with respect any decision by this organisation".
Asked whether Merkel saw the board's backtracking was as an "affront" that would cast a shadow over the get-together Tuesday, her spokesman Steffen Seibert had insisted Monday it would not.
But German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned gravely ahead of the meeting that ties with Russia, a crucial energy and trade partner, were important and should not be damaged for "frivolous reasons."
"Yes, we have differences of opinion, we would like to see progress on this front," he told reporters in Brussels.
"But at the end of the day the German-Russian relationship is of strategic importance and it should not be damaged because of some rashness or other."
© 2011 AFP