Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in comments released Wednesday that he sees no realistic "democratic alternative" in Russia to President Vladimir Putin and his policies.
Schroeder has developed a close relationship with Putin, and has favored pressing him discreetly on concerns about his moves to tighten control over Russian media, business and politics. The U.S. administration has taken a blunter approach.
"President Putin is making a serious attempt to change structures in such a way that we can truly speak of a democratic Russia," Schroeder was quoted as telling the weekly Die Zeit. Russia has "a press that is certainly critical," he added.
Pressed on the Kremlin's control of other media, Schroeder argued that "we should hold back from making sweeping judgments in a domestic political argument" that is being conducted in Russia.
"Aside from that, I see no achievable democratic alternative to President Putin and his policies," he said.
Schroeder's comments came ahead of a visit to Germany by Putin next month. The two leaders plan to open a trade fair in the chancellor's home city of Hanover on April 10.