German Chancellor Angela Merkel has advised Russia to improve the freedoms of civil society in order to promote economic growth.
Merkel spoke during a trade fair over the weekend in Hanover, Germany, which was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In her remarks, Merkel said Russia would be better able to diversify its economy and encourage innovation through an “active civil society,” referring specifically to non-governmental organizations.
"We must intensify these discussions, develop our ideas, and we must give the NGOs, whom we know as a motor for innovation, a good chance in Russia,” Merkel said, the BBC reported.
Merkel’s remarks come after a recent crackdown by the Russian government on NGOs, including at least two German political think tanks.
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Over the past year, NGOs receiving funding from outside of Russia have been designated by Moscow as “foreign agents.”
Last month, government agents raided the offices of more than 2,000 NGOs, seizing computers and documents under the pretense of checking compliance with Russian law.
Putin defended the raids and has previously accused various NGOs of meddling in Russian affairs and being enabled by foreign funding.
"Our citizens have the right to know where the money comes from," Putin said recently, Der Spiegel reported.
Human rights advocates have also decried the wave of inspections and called on Merkel’s government to pressure Moscow on protecting civil society.
“The crackdown on civil society is eroding the rule of law in Russia, and this should be of deep concern in Germany,” said Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a recent statement.