May 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Levada Center, a Russian independent pollster, may be forced to close after prosecutors said it may be violating President Vladimir Putin’s law on foreign agents, said Lev Gudkov, head of the researcher.
The center received a warning from prosecutors in Moscow about receiving foreign funds for its sociological research and publications, saying they amount to “political activities” within Russia, according to a scanned copy of the notification published on Levada’s website.
Russia last year required groups that accept money from abroad to register as foreign agents and submit to tighter controls. The Justice Ministry threatened to close human-rights organization Memorial, Golos and the Moscow branch of anti-graft watchdog Transparency International after they vowed to flout the rules. The Kremlin ordered the closing of U.S. aid agency USAID, which has financed Golos and Memorial.
“The prosecutors office is hanging our organization on the hook of possible sanctions and undermining its credibility and business reputation,” Gudkov said today on the Levada Center’s website. The organization faces the possibility of fines or sanctions as well as backlash from partners, clients and the people it surveys, which may force it to halt work as an independent researcher, he said.
The Levada Center received more than $777,000 in grants from the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation and George Soros’s OSI Assistance Foundation in the past four years, and carried out research projects for foreign clients including the National Endowment for Democracy and the University of Massachusetts, according to the prosecutor’s letter.
The move shows that the authorities are cracking down on external funding for non-commercial organizations, Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation research group, said by phone.
“Levada Center is one of the most important research groups in Russia,” Vinogradov said. “It will be a great loss if it’s closed.”
The Savelovskaya prosecutor’s office, which sent the letter according to the copy published on Levada’s website, didn’t immediately answer phones when called by Bloomberg.
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