What set off the wave of raids on NGOs?

25 March 2013 

Source: HRO.org (info)
Many commentators consider that the wave of raids by prosecutors and other public officials on the offices of Russian and international human rights and civil society organizations have been inspired by the ‘top political leadership’. In this regard, they point to instructions issues in February by President Putin to the leadership of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The right of Russians to freedom of speech is ‘inviolable and sacrosanct’, but no one has the right to destabilize the country, President Vladimir Putin stated at a meeting with the full leadership of the FSB, the BBC reported on 14 February 2013.

Opening the meeting, Putin said that the government supports the creation in Russia of an effective and mature civil society, however he pointed out that no one has a monopoly on the right to speak in the name of all society – ‘all the more is this so of structures managed and financed from abroad, and that means inevitably serving alien interests’.

The theme of foreign influence on the political processes in Russia is continuously present in Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric. For example in his presidential annual address of December 2012 he said no democracy forced on Russia from the outside was needed by the country, and that politicians who received finance from foreign foundations and who ‘serve the interests of other governments’ cannot be politicians in Russia.

This time Putin reminded his listeners that recently new legislation regulating the activities of non-profit organizations had been adopted in Russia, and called for the law to be implemented.

"Any direct or indirect interference in our internal affairs, any forms of pressure on Russia, on our allies and partners, are impermissible,’ the President told the FSB leadership.

In the summer of 2012 the Russian government introduced changes to laws regulating the work in Russia of non-profit organizations. In particular, non-profits that are engaged in ‘political activity’ and receive foreign funding, now must officially be registered as ‘foreign agents’.

The amendments were fiercely criticized by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

USAID was one of the first (under the pressure of the Russian government) to close its operations in Russia. The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs at the time stated that USAID had tried to influence ‘political processes through the distribution of grants, including elections at various levels and the institutions of civil society.’

Later it was reported that two American non-profit organizations had taken their staff out of Russia.