Human Rights Watch has called for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin into easing the crackdown on political dissent.

Merkel and Putin are scheduled to meet Friday in Moscow at the conclusion of two days of meetings between government ministers covering a broad range of economic and political issues.

“There has never been a more important time to put human rights front and center of Germany’s relationship with Russia,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

“That relationship should be grounded in Russia’s development of the rule of law, which the Kremlin has been steadily and blatantly undermining for the past six months.”

Since Putin’s return to the presidency in May, there has been widespread criticism among the political opposition regarding the openness of the elections, which has been met with suppression from the Russian government, “including the spate of laws introducing new, serious restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly,” HRW said.

“The legal crackdown creates a huge gray area of legal ambiguity for civil society to make activists vulnerable to prosecution and to reinstill fear and distrust among people whose Soviet-era instincts had largely faded,” Williamson said.

German lawmakers in the upper chamber of the legislature, known as the Bundestag, have also criticized Putin over the crackdown, signing a resolution earlier this month that called on the Merkel administration to urge Putin to respect human rights.

“The Bundestag’s resolution was strong and clear,” Williamson said. “Now it’s up to Chancellor Merkel to do what the resolution urges and raise these concerns in a clear, public way in her talks with Putin this week. Germany should also ensure the EU takes a similarly strong stance at its summit with Russia next month.”

The Russian government has responded defiantly to the German resolution.

"We are well aware of the heightened anti-Russian rhetoric in Germany in recent weeks or even months. We are aware of the demands Mrs. Merkel faces from Bundestag deputies and others to raise various human rights and democracy issues with Putin," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Reuters reported.

"As always, President Putin will explain in detail whatever remains unclear and will ask his own questions."