Merkel brought up the feminist activists at a bilateral forum in Moscow Friday after she was urged by German Parliament members to confront Putin over the deterioration of democratic freedoms in Russia, The Guardian reported.
"I don't know whether the two women should have been sent to a prison," Merkel said during public talks with the Russian president before the two retreated for closed-door talks. "I don't know whether the same would have happened to them in Germany. It would have generated a debate about whether that should go on in a church, no question. But should you really have to spend two years in a labor camp for it?"
Putin reacted angrily to Merkel's comments, saying members of Pussy Riot once participated in an anti-Semitic act, the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported.
"Does she [Merkel] know that before that one of [the Pussy Riot activists] hung an effigy of a Jew and said that these people need to be got rid of. You and I cannot support people who take an anti-Semitic stance. And I ask you to also take that into account."
The action Putin to which was referring was a political performance that included a mock hanging of three migrant workers and two gays, one of them Jewish, in a Moscow supermarket. The performance was meant to be an ironic protest against homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Russia. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, now 23, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, two of the three members of the Pussy Riot group who were sentenced to two years in prison in the cathedral incident, both took part.
Despite his sharp remark on Pussy Riot, Putin said: "It's not right to characterize our relations as a gloomy atmosphere. There isn't such a thing in politics, or in international affairs. There can be differences of outlook. We look for compromises, but it's not a gloomy atmosphere."