Foreign Ministry praises law banning undesirable foreign groups in Russia

View of the Russian Foreign Ministry building in Moscow. (RIA Novosti / Viktor Tolochko)
Russia’s deputy FM has told senators that the recently introduced law allowing automatic bans on groups that pose a threat to national security was a necessary step, adding that many such NGOs were in reality funded by foreign governments.

We hold that the passing of the law on undesirable organizations was without any questions a step in the right direction,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said at the Friday session of the Federation Council. He added that the new law was a significant and much-needed follow-up to the “Foreign Agents Law” passed in 2012.

Gatilov also said that a long time ago the Russian Foreign Ministry had noticed that many organizations working abroad as NGOs were in reality funded by their home country’s governments.

At the same time, the deputy minister stated that recognizing certain organizations as undesirable must happen only after serious joint work of several state agencies, and such moves should target only particular groups, with detailed explanations at every step.

Next week, the Upper House of the Russian Parliament is scheduled to look into the list of organizations that can be listed as undesirable, according to prosecutors’ decisions. Russian media has reported that the preliminary list includes 15 groups, but has not disclosed any names.

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The bill on undesirable foreign organizations was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in late May. The new law allows the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry to create a proscribed list of “undesirable foreign organizations,” making the activities of such groups in Russia illegal. The main criterion for putting a foreign or international NGO on the list is a “threat to the constitutional order and defense capability, or to the security of the Russian state.”

Non-compliance with the ban can be punished by administrative penalties, and for repeated and aggravated offenses can carry prison sentences of up to six years. Russian citizens and organizations that continue to work with banned groups would face administrative fines only.

Foreign and international NGOs, as well as the Russian domestic rights community, criticized the new law as “exotic” and “shocking,” while the European Union and the United States have officially expressed their concern over the new Russian law. The US State Department said in a statement that the move banning cooperation with various foreign groups could bring about the isolation of the Russian people from the outside world.

Russian politicians who had prepared and promoted the bill replied that it was more of a preventive measure and it was not targeting any particular organizations.

The so-called “Foreign Agents Law” introduced in late 2012 orders all NGOs engaged in Russian politics and receiving any funding from abroad to register as foreign agents or risk substantial fines. Groups with “foreign agent” status are banned from sponsoring Russian political parties, but otherwise their activities are not restricted.