BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany urged Russia on Friday to reverse a decision to ban three German non-governmental organisations it labelled as "undesirable" entities.
"To prohibit them from working is totally incomprehensible," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said during a regular government news conference, demanding a reversal of "this unjust measure."
The TASS news agency on Wednesday identified the three organisations banned by the Russian state prosecutor's office as the Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer, the Zentrum für die Liberale Moderne and the Deutsch-Russischer Austausch.
Relations between Germany and Russia have been strained by the poisoning and imprisoning of Putin critic Alexei Navalny, Moscow's backing of separatists in east Ukraine, and the murder of a former Chechen rebel in Berlin.
Merkel, who will step down as chancellor after an election in September, has been criticised for being soft on Russia, especially by refusing to suspend an almost completed pipeline project to bring Russian gas to Germany.
The Forum Russischsprachiger Europäer was founded by Russian speakers in Germany who accuse Putin of undermining democracy and basic freedoms in Russia.
The Zentrum für die Liberale Moderne is a think tank founded in 2017 by two Greens politicians to foster democracy, individual liberty and cosmopolitanism.
Germany's ecologist Greens, who are neck-and-neck with Merkel's conservatives four months before the general election, have vowed to scrap the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is opposed by European countries, such as Poland, who say it increases Europe's dependence on Russian gas.
Founded in 1992, the Deutsch-Russischer Austausch (DRA), which works to strengthen inter-cultural dialogue and human rights in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and other European countries, said the decision to ban it in Russia was "absurd."
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr and Alexander Ratz; Editing by Toby Chopra)