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Russia Tightens Noose on Foreign NGOs

Russia is banning America’s funding of foreign non-governmental organizations within the country. The US has turned to third parties.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 3/31/2013, 9:42 AM

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
www.kremlin.ru

Russia is banning America’s funding of foreign non-governmental organizations within Russia -- so America has turned to assistance via third parties.

At least 89 organizations in 24 regions across Russia have been audited in a month-long wave of spot checks and inspections, most recently the Russian advocacy NGO Agora, which provides legal support to political activists.

State officials from the Prosecutor General’s Office and the tax control service have raided prominent rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), corruption watchdog agency Transparency International, Amnesty International, a Memorial Rights group, the Korad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), the French L’Alliance Francais and others.

The inspections appear to be connected with a new law requiring NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” NGOs that are branches or chapters of foreign organizations do not have to register under the new law, according to RIA Novosti. But a more recent law, the “Dima Yakovlev Law” banning adoption of Russian children by Americans, has also tightened regulations on NGOs in Russia, according to Agora attorney Ramil Akhmetgaliyev.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement last Tuesday she found the inspections “worrisome because they seem to be aimed at further undermining civil society activities in the country.”

The U.S. State Department said in a statement issued two days later by spokesperson Victoria Nuland it would continue its funding of the NGOs it currently supports, infuriating Moscow.

The Russia Foreign Ministry on Saturday slammed the U.S. government, saying it viewed continued any financial support for Russian NGOs and public bodies as “openly interfering.”

In a statement released to media, the ministry warned, “We view the declaration... that the United States will continue financing the individual NGOs within Russia via intermediaries in third countries, bypassing Russian law, as open interference in our internal affairs.”

Nuland told journalists last Thursday in a briefing the U.S. believes the Russian government is in engaging in “some kind of witch hunt” -- an appellation the Russian foreign ministry called “cynical and provocative” and said the support would continue.

The spokesperson reiterated that the U.S. is “providing funding through platforms outside of Russia for those organizations that continue to want to work with us, understanding that they have to report that work now to their own government.”