Russia Terms U.S.-Funded Group a Threat, Uses Law First Time

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Russia enforced a law targeting foreign non-governmental organizations for the first time, declaring as “undesirable” the National Endowment for Democracy, a group that’s partly funded by U.S. Congress.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Malinovsky instructed the Justice Ministry to designate the group as a threat to the country’s security, according to an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. Such organizations lose rights to use local bank accounts and set up branches in Russia. The decision marks the first time a foreign NGO has been declared “undesirable” under legislation passed this year.

The Washington-based was founded in 1983 and says its goal is to promote democracy. It gave $5.2 million to projects in Russia in 2013-2014 with the aim of branding electoral campaigns as illegitimate, influencing government decisions and discrediting the armed forces, the general prosecutor’s office said.

As Russia grapples with its first recession in six years, the Kremlin is accelerating a clampdown on civil society that began after nationwide political protests against Vladimir Putin in 2011 and 2012, the biggest since he was first elected president a decade and a half ago. The Kremlin has accused the U.S. and Europe of using NGOs to fund uprisings in former Soviet states, including Ukraine.

The law contradicts Russia’s constitution and is meant to intimidate and isolate Russian citizens, NED said in an e-mailed statement. Russia is now entering an electoral cycle, with a regional vote in September, followed by national parliamentary polls a year later and a presidential ballot due by 2018.

‘Foreign Agents’

Since Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, the state has required groups that accept financing from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and subjected them to harsher regulation. The Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, voted on July 8 to send a blacklist of 12 foreign NGOs to Russia’s prosecutor general, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry. Lawmakers asked them to label as “undesirable” the organizations that include George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and the NED.

In May, a law came into effect that allows prosecutors to deem foreign NGOs “undesirable” if they “threaten Russia’s constitutional order, defense potential or security.”

The MacArthur Foundation, a U.S. non-profit organization, last week announced it was closing its Moscow office after almost a quarter century after the Federation Council included it on its “patriotic stop-list” of groups recommended for designation as “undesirable.”

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