At a meeting of Russia’s Federal Security Service on Thursday President Vladimir Putin took aim at non-governmental groups which receive foreign funding.
“Western special services continue their attempts at using public, nongovernmental and politicized organizations to pursue their own objectives, primarily to discredit the authorities and destabilize the internal situation in Russia,” Putin said according to Kremlin’s web site. “Actions are being planned for the time before the election campaigns in 2016 and 2018,” he added, referring to next year’s parliamentary election and a later presidential poll.
“We are ready for dialogue with the opposition and will continue our partnership with civil society in the broadest sense of the word,” Putin said.
“But it is pointless entering into a discussion with those who are operating on orders from the outside in the interests of some other country rather than their own,” he said. He promised that the state would continue to “pay attention to nongovernmental organizations that have foreign funding sources; we will compare their stated goals with their actual activities and terminate any violations.”
In 2012, Russia adopted a law that labels every NGO that is engaged in loosely defined political activities and receives any financial support from abroad as a “foreign agent.” The law stigmatizes and places heavy burdens on organizations that receive foreign funding and conduct activities deemed political by the authorities. The law has already hit hundreds of non-governmental organizations unwilling to register. Beginning on June 4, 2014, the Ministry of Justice may register organizations as foreign agents without their consent.
In the Barents part of Russia, there have already been several much discussed cases where NGOs have been forces to register as foreign agents. In the latest case, Bellona Murmansk discovered through media that the organization had been listed as foreign agents, despite several official inspections finding the opposite. LGBT organizations both in Murmansk and in Arkhangelsk have been put on the list, with the last-mentioned fined 300.000 rubles for refusing to accept the foreign agent label. In Murmansk, the organization Humanist Youth Movement has appealed a court decision stating that it needs to apply to the Ministry of Justice for registration as such.
Earlier this month, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to close all their information offices and contact centers in Northwest Russia after receiving a letter from the Russian Prosecutor’s Office in January which read that it will have to register as “foreign agent”. That triggered a furious response from the Nordic countries, which argued that the agent status is incompatible with the operations of the Council.