Saturday, January 19, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Leading NGOs, Running Out of Funds, May be Forced to Close

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 19 – Squeezed by a November 2012 law that restricts their ability to accept money from abroad and the unwillingness of wealthier Russians to contribute to groups the Kremlin doesn’t like, an increasing number of prominent Russian NGOs are running out of funds and may soon be forced to close.

            While that situation, highlighted in an “Izvestiya” article yesterday, is likely to please Russian President Vladimir Putin, it ultimately will harm many Russians who will no longer be able to count on groups who had provided them at least a limited amount of protection against the arbitrary and often cruel actions of their rulers (

            Valentina Melnikova, head of the Russian Human Rights Center which unites 11 NGOs, says that the financial situation of these organizations is now worse than it has ever been.  Among the organizations most at risk, the paper adds, are Mothers’ Rights, Children’s Right, and the Center for the Reform of Criminal Justice System.

            Most of those involved, “Izvestiya” says, blame the November 2012 law which required any group taking money from foreign sources to declare itself a “foreign agent.”  That has put even groups like the Moscow Helsinki Group in difficulty, but that organization’s leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva says she has had some luck in making up the financial gap.

            In other NGOs, the paper says, “the situation with contributions is much worse.”  As Veronika Marchenko of Mothers’ Rights put it, Russian sponsors have not helped them much because “the command to ‘help’ them has not yet come from above.”  And they are reluctant to appear to cross the Kremlin on this.

             Lyudmila Alekseyeva is somewhat more optimistic about the future than most, the paper says. She believes that the European Human Rights Court will rule in favor of the Russian NGOs and against the “foreign agent” law. But despite the unjust nature of that law, she says she and others will “struggle with it by legal means.”

            Today, the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal carried additional comments about the financial plight of Russian NGOs (  Pavel Chikov, president of the AGORA Human Rights Association, says that Russian NGOs are performing “unique work” and must be saved.

            But he suggests the resolution of the current problems will have to take place “at another level, at the level of the leadership of the country” rather than in the courts. And Oleg Orlov, chairman of the Memorial Council, says that the November 2012 law hurt the NGOs but that the closure of the US AID programs in Moscow, at Russia’s request, may have done even more.

            Orlov suggested that some wealthy Russians may want to support these programs that do so much good for ordinary Russians, “but they have been shown with the Khodorkovsky case what can happen to them if they begin to give money for projects that do not have the approval of the authorities.”

            The Memorial leader said that it was still not clear whether there would be a mass closing of NGOs in the near future.  “A repressive mechanism has been established which allows the authorities to put pressure on any human rights organization. It is in place. Will it be applied? We shall see.  But it really exists, and the powers that be have all the opportunities to unleash it.”

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