Senators release list of 12 foreign NGOs seen as threat to Russia

Senators have warned that the “stop-list” is not exhaustive and may be expanded. Source: Roman Balayaev / TASS

Senators have warned that the “stop-list” is not exhaustive and may be expanded. Source: Roman Balayaev / TASS

Russia’s Federation Council has unveiled a so-called “patriotic stop-list,” comprising 12 foreign organizations whom senators suspect of activities detrimental to national interests. Commentators polled by RBTH say the list is politically motivated and threatens Russia’s NGO sector with a serious lack of funding.

Senators from Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, have submitted a so-called “patriotic stop-list” containing the names of 12 foreign organizations whose work they claim is a threat to Russian national security to the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the Justice and Foreign Affairs ministries.

The list, submitted on July 8, consists of eight American, three Ukrainian and one Polish organization, and includes well-known bodies such as Freedom House, the MacArthur Foundation, the Soros Foundation and others.Senators believe that through these organizations “pressure is being exerted on Russian values and institutions” because, as a rule, these organizations are funded by foreign governments.

The Federation Council explained that the list is a “preventive” one, i.e. it does not have legal force and was adopted so that the Prosecutor-General’s Office would check the listed entities as to their compliance with the new law on “undesirable organizations,” signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 23, 2015.

Under the new legislation, foreign and international companies and organizations whose work in Russia is identified as a threat to national interests can be declared “undesirable” and thus prohibited from operating in the country.

Senators have warned that the “stop-list” is not exhaustive and may be expanded.


‘We are not naïve’

There are 15,000 foreign policy NGOs operating in the United States and some of them have budgets exceeding that of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko.

“It is clear what huge sums are being allocated under the guise of improving democracy <…> and it is clear to what end. We are not naïve,” she added.

The head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, who came up with the idea of compiling the “stop-list,” told RBTH that the list comprised organizations “known for their political bias,” which “have already made themselves known both in neighboring countries and in some cases in Russia too.

“Formally, these organizations’ founding documents state quite positive goals, such as assistance in the development of democracy, civil society institutions, human rights and freedoms…” he said.

However, in many cases, he went on, their activities boil down to spreading “biased and politicized information [and] inciting sentiments of protest.” Reports that foreign NGOs are engaged in political or close to political activities come mainly from the regions, Kosachev said. Earlier, at a meeting in the Federation Council on July 3, it was announced that senators had received relevant information from the FSB and the Prosecutor-General’s Office, among others.

Senators themselves have more than once stressed that the list was compiled in a transparent procedure, involving representatives of the Russian Public Chamber, the Foreign Ministry, the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring, the State Duma and others.


Wolves in sheep’s clothing

The MacArthur Foundation received the news of its inclusion on the “patriotic stop-list” in Russia “with great regret.” In a statement e-mailed to RBTH, the president of the organization Julia Stasch said: "We are disappointed." It went on to say that the MacArthur Foundation hopes that it will be established that its "activities have always been in compliance with Russian law.”

"The MacArthur Foundation is entirely independent of and receives no funding from the United States government. We do not engage in or support political activities,” said Stasch.

She went on to add that with assistance from the foundation, several independent universities had emerged in Russia, saying that the organization’s grantees “protected vulnerable Russian citizens and enhanced the public discourse for all Russian people" in the field of human rights.

Andrei Yurov, the founder of the Crimea Human Rights Field Mission, another of the 12 organizations on the list, said it was “quite predictable” that major foreign foundations had found themselves on the list: “They just looked at the major and best known donors and randomly put them on the list,” he told RBTH.

At the same time, Yurov said that seeing his own “organization” on that list came as “a complete surprise.” It is not even an organization as such but rather an initiative of several human rights activists from Russia and the CIS, he explained [the Russian-Ukrainian joint mission was set up on March 5, 2014 with support from the UN Development Program in Ukraine].

“We do not have a membership, no budget, no offices, we don’t have anything. We are not even registered,” Yurov continued. According to him, the human rights activists were engaged purely in monitoring the human rights situation in Crimea, “and doing it with utmost care and accuracy, and far removed from any political assessments.”

Previously, Yurov said, the mission had established “quite good” cooperation with the office of the Russian human rights ombudsman and the presidential human rights and civil society council.

“We were an example showing that independent human rights campaigners could legally operate in Crimea. In that sense, our work was of far more benefit to the Russian Foreign Ministry than banning us would be,” he concluded.

The president of the Russian Association of Political Consultants and a member of the board of the European Association of Political Consultants, Igor Mintusov, said that the choice of organizations on the “stop-list” was politically motivated.

“The Federation Council is reading the signals that are being sent by the country’s leadership, the president and his administration,” he told RBTH. In the pundit’s opinion, the fact that the organizations on the list were funding Russian NGOs branded as “foreign agents” may have played a decisive role.


Warning signal

The “stop-list” is a warning signal both to Russian executive bodies and to the organizations in question, said Leonid Polyakov, professor at the Political Sciences Department of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. However, it would be possible to say that the list is politically motivated only if the organizations on it get this “signal” and revise their policies in Russia, he said.

“If finally they realize that they are operating in Russia and should take into account our interests rather than just work for themselves no matter what, then this decision regarding them may be revoked,” Polyakov said.

Still, according to Igor Mintusov, the Russian NGO sector has now lost an important source of funding, while the foundations on the list have been labeled: “Russians, beware! Be vigilant, there may be wolves in sheep’s clothing by your side.”

Russian NGOs may indeed lose sources of funding, Polyakov agreed, adding however that “it would be compensated by preventing the damage being done to the country.”

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