German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to "give a chance" to non-governmental organisations which she described as a "motor of innovation".
The two leaders were opening the Hanover industrial trade fair in north Germany. Russia is the fair's partner country this year.
Her statement, made in her much applauded opening speech, was a direct reference to Russian probes into a number of international NGOs including German think tanks, moves criticised by Moscow's partners.
In an interview with German public television station ARD, broadcast on Sunday, Putin defended the Russian crackdown on NGOs, arguing that Russians had a right to know which organisations that set up shop in the country were receiving foreign funds "and for what".
In her speech Merkel insisted on the importance of an active civil society in Russia.
"Russia wants to diversify... and we want to help it," she said adding that a key element of the diversification of the economy was innovation.
"We are convinced that this is particularly successful when there is an active civil society," she said.