German Rights Envoy Cancels Russia Trip in Sign of Chill

The German government’s top human-rights official canceled a trip to Russia at short notice, citing signals from Moscow that his visit wasn’t wanted.

Christoph Straesser, a Social Democratic lawmaker who had planned to leave Monday for Moscow and North Ossetia, said he was disappointed that “the opportunity of dialogue” wasn’t taken up.

“The Russians made very clear in writing and verbally that my visit to Russia was currently undesirable,” Straesser said in a statement distributed by the Foreign Ministry in Berlin late Tuesday. “I’m astonished that the Russian government has made this decision, which could further burden our relations in difficult political times.”

Legislation signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last month deemed foreign non-governmental organizations undesirable, drawing a rebuke from the U.S. and the European Union. Straesser cited the law and said conditions for civil-rights groups in Russia are worsening.

The U.S. and the EU have imposed sanctions against Russia for fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine after the toppling of Ukraine’s Russian-backed government in 2014 prompted Russia to annex Crimea.

Straesser wanted to meet government representatives, lawmakers, judicial officials and human-rights groups in Moscow and the regional capital of Vladikavkaz in the northern Caucasus region. He has been the German government’s commissioner for human rights since last year.