Staunton, December 18 – Having harassed and labelled as “foreign agents” those Russian human rights activist groups still functioning, the Kremlin has now announced that it will no longer provide them with any presidential grants, thus signaling that it no longer cares about its imagine in this area and driving another nail into the coffins of these groups.
Some human rights groups, like the Moscow Helsinki Group, refused to take money from abroad lest they be labelled “foreign agents.” Those that have continued to do so have been harassed and even close down as legal persons such as the original For Human Rights. But both continued to operate often with money from presidential grants.
The Kremlin up until now clearly felt that have human rights groups was good for its image, but now that appears to have changed. As Lev Ponomaryev puts it, “we exist as a decoration for the state and the state doesn’t want to beautify itself in this way anymore” (svoboda.org/a/30330360.html).
Because private donations from those living in Russia are hard to come by, many groups are being strangled to death by the absence of funds. And activists, convinced that is the case, are seeking money from the population, although they do not appear confident that they will get enough soon enough to avoid collapse (svoboda.org/a/30330314.html).
Lest anyone think that the only victims of this latest Kremlin move are those who work with these organizations, it is important to remember what Ponomaryev, founder of the first and second For Human Rights group has said. “Very often, human rights defenders are the last hope people have,” even though they cannot always achieve everything they would like.
Consequently, what some in the regime and among its supporters are likely to dismiss as just saving money or being about the organizations alone, this latest attack is the latest tightening of the screws as Vladimir Putin continues to move Russia step by step toward a new totalitarianism.
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