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14 May, 2024 17:44

Russian MPs pass bill banning ‘foreign agents’ from elections

Those considered to be under influence from abroad will also be prohibited from serving as observers
Russian MPs pass bill banning ‘foreign agents’ from elections

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill that bans individuals labeled as ‘foreign agents’ from seeking any political office in the country, according to a press release issued by the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament.  

According to the bill, those deemed foreign agents will no longer be able to stand as candidates in elections at either the municipal or federal level. Such persons will also be prohibited from taking part in elections as proxies of other candidates or observers, which effectively means that anyone working for NGOs or media companies that receive funds from abroad may be excluded from the election process.  

The legislation was earlier passed by the State Duma, the lower chamber. It must now be signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law. 

The changes essentially constitute a package of amendments to an existing law governing the activities of foreign agents in Russia first adopted in 2012. Under the law, those designated as foreign agents are not banned from operating in the country but are required to disclose their status and are subject to additional restrictions.   

The latest amendments oblige anyone who decides to take part in elections to “cease their status as a foreign agent.” If it turns out that an already registered candidate has the status of foreign agent, a court can cancel such a candidate’s election registration. The bill also states that a citizen can be deprived of his or her currently held political position if designated a foreign agent. However, office holders are granted a 180-day period to relinquish this status before being removed.  

Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin earlier called the new legislation “humane, democratic and liberal.” He emphasized that those labeled as foreign agents have the option of having the label removed by cutting ties with foreign funding and then reintegrating into the electoral process. 

According to Volodin, there are currently ten foreign agents in the legislative bodies of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian regions. 

In 2022, Russia already amended the legislation to prohibit foreign agents from holding state office, taking part in electoral campaigns, engaging in educational activities, or receiving state funds. In March of this year, advertising on platforms belonging to foreign agents was banned. Those who fail to comply with the foreign agent legislation can face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($55,000) and up to six years in prison.