Stress-testing NGOs

FSB headquarters in Moscow keeps a special eye on non-profit organizations funded from abroad. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

FSB and other government inspectors have started a large-scale check of hundreds of Russian non-governmental organizations with the aim to find so-called “foreign agents” – groups involved in political activities with funding from abroad.


It was on February 14th, President Vladimir Putin called on FSB to fulfill the aims of last year’s controversial NGO-law forcing foreign-funded NGO to register with the Ministry of Justice as “foreign agents.”

“Today we set procedures of NGOs in Russia, including those funded from abroad. These laws should certainly be fulfilled. Any direct or indirect interference in our internal affairs, any form of pressure on Russia, our allies and partners, is unacceptable,” Putin told the FSB officers.

The Prosecutor General’s office passed the order to its regional branch offices all round Russia and so far in March several hundred NGOs have been met with unannounced checks, reports Kommersant.

The inspections have been carried out by Prosecutor General’s Office, FSB, Tax-service, Fire-inspection, Ministry of Interior,  Consumer Protection Service, Emergency Situations Ministry and other federal agencies.

On Tuesday this week, the door-bell rang at the office of the non-profit ecological and human right group Bellona St. Petersburg. Head of the organization, Nikolai Rybakov, says the representatives from the prosecutor’s office were polite and asked Bellona to present a load of documents about the group’s activity by Friday.

Other inspections have been carried out at the offices of non-governmental organizations in Moscow, Penza, St. Petersburg, Samara, Rostov, Perm, Krasnodar, Volgograd and Saratov regions. According to Gazeta, checks have so far been carried out in 13 regions across Russia. 

Prosecutor General’s office in Moscow confirms to RIA Novosti that a massive NGO inspection has started. The news agency quotes a press-note saying the checks are done in in accordance with the legislation and includes public, religious and other non-profit organizations.

Members of the Presidential Council on Human Rights were hastily assembled Tuesday in an emergency meeting to discuss the situation for the country’s non-governmental organizations. 

Head of the council, Elena Soldunova says to Gazeta that the Human Right Council expects not only answers why these checks are carried out, but also personal attendance by the General Prosecutor at the next meeting.  

Human rights activists believes the on-going stress-testing of Russian NGOs constitute a scare campaign against independent groups that are inconvenient for the government.

The NGO checks are designed to catch organizations that receive foreign funding and are involved in “political activities” but have failed to register as “foreign agents,” as required by a law passed last year that was derided by rights activists and widely boycotted, says Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora human rights association and a member of the presidential human rights council to the Moscow Times on Wednesday.

The “foreign agent” law was heavily criticized world-wide after it was approved by the State Duma in July last year. Head of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, said the law reminded him of the Stalin era

“This is unfair, it’s inappropriate and it shouldn’t be used in a modern lawmaking, it belongs to the past and it does not belong to a democratic society,” Jagland said.