Putin fears "spark of democracy", Germany's Scholz says

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Macron, Scholz and Draghi meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
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BERLIN (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin fears the "spark of democracy" spreading to his country, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, adding that he was trying to divide Europe and return to a world dominated by spheres of influence.

Scholz was responding to a question in an interview with the Muenchner Merkur newspaper, published on the government website on Monday, on whether Putin would accept Ukraine moving closer to the European Union.

"The Russian President must accept that there is a community of law-based democracies in his neighbourhood that is growing ever closer together," he said. "He clearly fears the spark of democracy spreading to his country."

The Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson Maria Zakharova rejected the comments, writing on social media: "German sparks have spread onto us a couple of times. We will not allow any more fires."

The European Commission last week recommended that Ukraine, which has been battling a Russian invasion since February, be given the status of candidate to join the European Union, a move Scholz said he also backed.

Scholz warned that soaring energy prices would likely be around for a long time, and rejected Russia's assertion that it had cut gas flows because necessary spare parts were missing due to sanctions.

"This explanation is not plausible," he said.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Sarah Marsh and Philippa Fletcher)

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