Russian envoy slams flap over German prize for Putin

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's ambassador to Germany on Monday blasted the decision to cancel plans to award a private democracy prize to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin after a storm of protest in Berlin.

Ambassador Vladimir Grinin told ARD public television ahead of a joint Russian-German cabinet meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev and Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday that he found the flap "very distasteful and indecent".

"I regret it deeply," he said, while adding: "I do not think that it will harm our relations."

The 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 outrage in the media and among officials across the political spectrum over Putin's disputed record on human rights, journalistic freedom and the conduct of the conflict in Chechnya.

Others noted that the award could appear to be an endorsement of Putin for the 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, Czech playwright, former dissident and onetime president Vaclav Havel, to return the prize, and called off this year's ceremony.

Grinin said Moscow wanted to continue the bilateral dialogue on the rule of law that is part of the "modernisation partnership between Russia and Germany" and is on the agenda for the talks Tuesday in the northern city of Hanover.

Asked whether Merkel saw the jury's u-turn as an "affront" that would cast a shadow over the get-together, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said it would not.

"The chancellor is going into the meeting tomorrow morning confident that it will lead to several specific projects that underline the strong partnership between the two countries," he said.

In Moscow, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov played down the affair Saturday, insisting it would not affect relations between the two countries.

"This has nothing to do with Russian-German ties," Peskov told AFP.

The Putin government would "treat with respect any decision by this organisation", he added.

Peskov told the Interfax news agency: "Vladimir Putin is the holder of many international awards, who does not need a further acknowledgement."

© 2011 AFP

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