A law banning foreign and international non-governmental organizations (NGO) as “undesirable” in Russia was approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin last May. A specific list of “undesirables” is currently being prepared in Moscow, and it may include The Jamestown Foundation, along with other NGOs—most of them American. The Duma has ended its session and already gone into summer recess, but the upper house—the Federation Council—still in session, has this week put forward a “patriotic stop-list” of 12 NGOs it wants to ban: The Open Society Institute, also known as the Soros Foundation; the National Endowment for Democracy; the International Republican Institute; the National Democratic Institute; the MacArthur Foundation; Freedom House; the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; the Education for Democracy Foundation; the East European Democratic Center; the Ukrainian World Congress; the Ukrainian World Coordinating Council; and the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights. The Kremlin-connected Izvestia daily, quoting an informed source in the Federation Council, insists at least eight more foreign NGOs could be additionally banned. This extended list includes the Ford Foundation, The Jamestown Foundation, the Eurasia Foundation, the Albert Einstein Institution, and Open Russia—founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and closed in 2006, when Russian authorities froze its bank accounts, but relaunched by Khodorkovsky, in September 2014, as an online project (Izvestia, July 9).
Legally speaking, the “patriotic stop-list,” adapted by a unanimous vote in the Federation Council, is no more than a wish-list: The Federation Council and the Duma do not decide what foreign NGOs are branded “undesirable.” The Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation (or his deputy) designate an NGO as “undesirable” in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After a decision by the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Justice includes the designated NGO in the list of “undesirables” on its Internet site (at present, the list is empty or nonexistent). Of course, the list of “undesirable” foreign NGOs prepared in Moscow will be formed on the basis of an interdepartmental consensus with parliamentarians, special services and the Prosecutor General Office working together. During a hearing this week, the chairman of the Constitutional Committee of the Federation Council, Andrei Klyshas, while presenting the “patriotic stop-list” of foreign NGOs, asked to switch off the CCTV feed to the press room, but, apparently through some glitch, it was not. Overheard by journalists, Klyshas told fellow senators that “the decision has been approved by everyone—the FSB [Federal Security Service], the Prosecutor General and the foreign ministry” (Rbc.ru, July 7).
A designation as “undesirable” can be appealed in court before a Russian judge (no juries involved), but severe sanctions commence immediately and cannot be put on hold while the appeal is heard. According to Russian law, foreign NGOs “that threaten the security, the defense capabilities and the constitutional governance of the Russian Federation,” may be designated as “undesirable.” Any activities of “undesirable” NGOs or their subsidiary organizations are forbidden, and their employees or activists are denied entry into Russia. Assets and money transactions must be frozen, and banks must report any financial activities of the “undesirables.” Banks may be punished for failing to report these funds or transactions. Any publications by “undesirable” NGOs in hardcopy, computer files or Internet postings are, more or less, treated on the same level as child pornography: “Distribution or keeping” of such material is forbidden and punishable. Any “cooperation” by Russian citizens with “undesirable” NGOs is forbidden and punishable by hefty fines, while a repeated offence can result in a prison term of up to six years and a ban of up to ten years “on specific professional activities.” Any citizen that volunteers to desist “cooperation” with an “undesirable” foreign NGO may be pardoned, “if other offences have not been committed” (Kremlin.ru, May 23).
According to Konstantin Kosachov, the chairman of the Federation Council Foreign Relations Committee, “Those who give money to the ‘undesirable’ NGOs are not interested in preserving animals or trees—their interest is to organize mass street protests when they decided the time has come” (RIA Novosti, July 8). The Federation Council resolution declares: “Today, Russia is under attack, the worst in the past 25 years, targeting its national interests, values and institutes.”
The Russian authorities and special services see the United States as their main adversary and are concentrating their efforts on preventing what is seen as US subversive activities aimed at possible regime change in Russia. Izvestia, quoting informed sources in the Federation Council, insists that the MacArthur Foundation, Freedom House and other well-known US NGOs are substituting for USAID, which was banned by the Russian authorities in 2012, and are currently distributing US government grants to the Russian opposition and human rights groups, including Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group. The Jamestown Foundation is accused of “focusing on the North Caucasus” and of “being affiliated” with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Freedom House and “other US NGOs that receive USAID money.” The Albert Einstein Institution has apparently been listed because its founder, Gene Sharp (87), is considered in Moscow the inventor of the dreaded “color revolution” tactic of nonviolent regime change that has allegedly been used by the West in Georgia and Ukraine (Izvestia, July 9).
The Russian authorities have been harassing Russian NGOs they do not like by declaring them “foreign agents,” and a number of them have already been forced to close down. This week, the private Dynasty charitable foundation, which specialized in promoting scientific research and education and was funded by retired businessman Dmitry Zimin (82) (see EDM, May 28), announced it is closing down because it was branded a “foreign agent” organization (Interfax, July 8). Another well-established NGO—The Committee Against Torture—has, this week, announced it is closing down because it has been labeled a “foreign agent” and cannot pay the fines imposed on it by the authorities (Kommersant, July 8).
The banning of “undesirable” NGOs will further curtail Russia’s fragile human rights community and civil society. The websites and Internet postings of “undesirable” foreign NGOs will be banned by Russian Internet providers, and any connection or reference to their publications will be illegal and punishable by fines or even prison time. Russians with any connections to the “undesirables” could find themselves under intense scrutiny and pressure by the authorities. If Jamestown is indeed branded “undesirable,” this column by Pavel Felgenhauer, coming from Moscow, may be forced to discontinue.
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Note from Jamestown: As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Jamestown does not accept any funding from any US governmental agency and operates solely with funding from private American citizens, private foundations and corporate support.