Justice Ministry to add Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia NGO to list of undesirable groups - report

Former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky (RIA Novosti / Vasily Prokopenko)
A new Russian list suggesting 12 undesirable foreign organizations will soon be expanded to 20 groups and include the Open Russia NGO sponsored by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Izvestia daily reports.

In an article published on Thursday, Izvestia quoted unnamed, high-placed sources in the Upper House as saying the Justice Ministry is preparing amendments to the “stop-list” approved by the Federation council and had forwarded it to the Prosecutor General’s office on Wednesday.

The added groups will include the Ford Foundation, the Jamestown Foundation, the Eurasia Foundation, and the Albert Einstein Institute. The Justice Ministry is also seeking a ban on the Russian activities of the Open Russia association, created and sponsored by former oil tycoon and staunch opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the sources said.

This will not be the end, the network of foundations that implement the politics of the US State Department is quite ramified and our list will be expanded,” added the high-placed Upper House official.

The head of the Federation Council’s International Relations Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, said in comments that the creation of the stop-list was “a start of the public discussion and not its end” and stressed that the whole project was not targeted against Russia’s civil society or its partners abroad. The senator said the main objective of the new law was to “create a barrier against the forces that openly demand regime change in Russia.”

READ MORE: Upper house approves first list of 12 ‘undesirable’ foreign groups

In May, the Justice Ministry initiated the prosecutors’ probe into the Open Russia public movement in order to clarify its ties with former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and foreign sponsorship. In April, MP Aleksandr Sidyakin, who represents the parliamentary majority United Russia party, asked law enforcers to check if the Open Russia public movement could be categorized as a foreign agent, and, if so, to see that it duly registers as such.

However, any legal action against the group is complicated by the fact that it is not officially registered as a legal entity and therefore it has never come under the Justice Ministry’s radar.

The Open Russia NGO was founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his close allies in 2001. After Khodorkovsky was tried and sentenced for large-scale tax evasion, the organization ceased to exist, but when the former Yukos boss was pardoned and released in December 2013, Open Russia was re-launched as a network structure aiming to assist the “Europe-oriented part of Russian society.”

The Law on Undesirable Foreign Organizations came into force in early June. This stipulates that the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry make a list of undesirable organizations and outlaw their activities, including the distribution of information materials or any cooperation with Russian citizens or legal entities. Violation of the ban is punishable with heavy fines, or even prison terms in cases of repeated or aggravated offences.