Undesirable presence of foreign NGOs in Russia. Law on NGOs

“Undesirable organizations” in Russia were officially criminalized by the law on May 19, 2015. According to a report from vesti.ru, “undesirable organizations” were deemed to be those performing activities that threatened the state’s security and the population’s health and moral development. The attorney general received power to ban the implementation of programs and projects on Russian territory. Slon.ru underlined that human rights activists from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International heavily criticized the law and called it “drakonian.” In reality, the main targets of the law were not International organizations, but local Russian activists and Organizations. Meduza.io widely covered the issue and events following the endorsement of the law, with headlines like “Putin says foreign secret agencies plan to use NGOs to destabilize Russian elections.” The Federation Council already elaborated a “patriotic stop list” including 12 NGOs. News Outlet posted a list of those organizations:

Open Society Foundations, George Soros’s philanthropic foundation

Credit: Courtesy of Charles Maynes

Credit: Courtesy of Charles Maynes

The MacArthur Foundation, one of the largest private philanthropies based in the USA
The National Endowment for Democracy, a private American non-profit supported by the US Congress)
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an American nonprofit for democracy promotion in developing nations
Freedom House, a US-based NGO dedicated to research on democracy and human rights
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a private foundation based in Michigan
The International Republican Institute, a UN-partnered democracy promotion organization based out of Washington, DC
The Ukrainian World Congress, a coordination assembly for Ukrainian public organizations and diaspora
The World Coordinating Council of Ukrainians, an alliance of NGOs based in Kiev representing Ukrainians both in Ukraine and abroad
The Crimean Field Mission for Human Rights, a human rights monitoring mission coordinated by a number of human rights organizations
The East European Democratic Center, a Polish NGO dedicated to democracy promotion
The Education for Democracy Foundation, a Polish nonprofit supporting democracy education and civil society building

Starting from June, the American media only paid moderate attention to Russia’s enforcement of NGO restrictions. The headlines also focused on the closing of major American NGOs within Russian borders, namely the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy. The Wall Street Journal: In the middle of August, the Wall Street Journal displays a standout article on Kremlin’s move to target activists receiving funding from abroad. Beginning with a set up line of What do a puppet theater, a torture investigator and a forest-preservation group have in common,” the authors answers, “in Russia, all are considered ‘foreign agents’ and could face closure.” The piece continues to claim that the closing of “one of the country’s most respected human-rights watchdogs” further jeopardizes “Russia’s fragile civil society.” New York Times: In the month of July, the New York times hosts numerous articles on the closing of American NGOs MacArthur and the National Endowment for Democracy within the Russian Federation.

In Lithuanian media the law was seen to be controversial, a witch hunt, thought police, a crackdown on NGOs, etc. Delfi said that with such a law Kremlin tried to suppress freedom of speech in Russia. It also talked about how damaging this law was to Russia’s science and education, as many of “undesirable” NGOs funded talented researchers, academia and students.

Credit: AP/Scanpix

Credit: AP/Scanpix

Lietuvos Rytas was the only media outlet that actually elaborated more on the issue. It is depicted as a deeply politicized manoeuvre connected with V. Putin’s and Kremlin’s preparation for the upcoming elections. It also speculated that the main target of this law were not foreigners, but Russian civil society, or Kremlin’s critics and potential opposition threatening the Russian political elite leading to the upcoming elections.

In Estonia this topic was quite poorly covered in all three analysed sources: ERR, Delfi and Postimees. There were only reports of the possibility of this law being endorsed in the beginning of 2015. Then they reported that the law was finally adopted. There hasn’t been any news about that topic after that. Furthermore, not one Estonian opinion leader was quoted in the article. All the articles had interviews with leaders of the US or the EU for the more critical side. The media described the issue relatively neutrally, and few opinions and arguments were presented.

Although the German media was slightly critical, in 2 out of 3 sources there was no strong vocabulary used. Süddeutsche Zeitung seemed to be the most interested in the topic and commented on the issue:

„In the past weeks, the state has further increased its hunt for alleged agents. Putin warned about foundations that ‘rummaged through schools’ and ‘fixed’ talented children with scholarships in order to tempt them to foreign countries. On Wednesday the federation Council passed a ‘patriotic stop-list’ with twelve ‘unwanted organisations’ that apparently threaten the state order.“

Tagesschau.de criticized that public administration could now put organisations on a „black list“ without prior notice by declaring them “threats to country’s security.” 


In both unofficial Russian and Lithuanian medias, the law was depicted as being damaging to civil society and activists rather than to foreign organizations within the Russian Federation. After enforcement of the law, “undesirables” largely consisted of American organizations deemed to be most “threatening” to Russia’s security.

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