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Human rights experts disagree with president on foreign NGOs’ financing

April 08, 2013, 9:51 UTC+3

It is not clear, why Moscow considers foreign financing of Russia’s third sector as harmful for it

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in an interview with Germany’s ARD television channel explained the mass inspections of the non-governmental organisations /NGOs/ in Russia by the facts that the inspections had been pre-planned and that the NGOs had been receiving huge amounts of money from abroad. Putin said that 654 GNOs received money from foreign payees, and over four months they had received already one billion dollars from abroad. However, human rights experts doubt the figures, which the president has quoted.

The Ministry of Economic Development says Russian NGOs’ losses due to lower foreign financing make 19 billion roubles a year this is about by 4.5 times less, than Putin has quoted (28.3 billion roubles over four months make 85 billion roubles a year), the Vedomosti daily reports. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said the president had used closed data from secret services.

It is not clear, why Moscow considers foreign financing of Russia’s third sector as harmful for it, the newspaper continues. Grant from foreign funds and state authorities have been used (and perhaps are still used) by major and well-known pro-Kremlin NGOs, which nobody has inspected as yet.

The Moskovsky Komsomolets says human rights activists do not believe the figures named by the president. “The first reaction: voice the entire list, please,” a source, who chose to remain unnamed, told the daily. “The figures are shocking. If we say that over next eight months of the current year, financing from abroad will remain at the level Putin quoted, the budget of every out of the 654 (the figure is more or less true to fact) organisations will make four million dollars a year. In reality, I doubt we have more than 20 non-governmental organisations active, mighty, with big staff, represented in the regions, attracting experts and involved in publishing, -- whose budgets are around half a million dollars a year. This means much less. However, most, like myself, have much more modest budgets.”

“It seems the president had received wrong figures,” another source said. “Could it have been a mistake with zeros? It is unrealistic, in fact. If we suppose there are no mistakes, then it looks like a manipulation with facts. All financing happens early in the year. My organisation, for example, receives 50,000 dollars which is spent on wages to the staff and the annual rent. We are not receiving anything else.”

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes Deputy Director at the Centre for Political Technologies Boris Makarenko as saying the Russian authorities are afraid of the “Western democracy’s soft power”: “Because that soft power does not cost anything, but its influence on the Russian society has grown dramatically lately. The society has changed, at least a part of it has identified the demand for bigger transparency, for the democracy, for honest elections, for the legal state. The attractiveness of those Western ideals to the society has grown greatly. I am not sure whether Putin and his team realise it however, instinctively they do feel that influence of the values of the kind has been growing. Still, the power’s response to those demands is absolutely incorrect the reason, it reads, is that somebody from abroad is interfering maliciously with our political life.”

The Kommersant writes the State Duma deputy representing United Russia, and a representative of the All-Russia People’s Front Mikhail Starshinov suggests confiscating financing from NGOs, which would not register themselves as “foreign agents.” He is sure it would not be a “robbery,” it would be a “preventive measure.” Starshinov initiated this idea soon after Vladimir Putin’s statement that Russian NGOs have received from abroad “almost a billion dollars.”

Mikhail Starshinov told the newspaper he would present to the State Duma on Tuesday addendums to the law on non-governmental organisation, which offer confiscation of means from the organisations refusing to register themselves as “foreign agents”. He said he would do so after having discussed the addendums with his colleagues in the faction.


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