Sunday, February 20, 2022

Kremlin Sustains Its Power by Simultaneously Cracking Down on Some NGOs and Funding Others, Bederson and Semyonov Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 29 – The Kremlin has adopted a carrot and stick approach to civil society in Russia, simultaneously cracking down on NGOs it believes are arrayed against it and funding others it has concluded are performing essential services and even making it easier for the regime to manage the country, Vsevolod Bederson and Andrey Semyonov say.

            The former naturally attracts more attention, the two Perm State University scholars say; but the latter is important as well to judge from the increase in Moscow funding of these favored non-governmental organizations by more than ten times over the last decade (

            Most scholars argue that authoritarian regimes and independent civil societies are inherently antagonists, Bederson and Semyonov continues. That was certainly true of totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union. But more “softer” authoritarian governments have shown themselves adept at using a carrot and stick approach.

            They draw that conclusion on the basis of a close study of Presidential grants which have been handed out to a wide variety of NGOs. (Memorial just banned was even given one in 2015.) Some groups have no chance to get them, such as advocates of LGBT rights; but the range of those who can and do is remarkably quite large.

            According to the two Perm scholars, the Kremlin uses a rational risk-benefit analysis to make its decisions in this sector. It uses repression against those which are less beneficial or directly problematic for the regime, ignores many that are marginal, but funds a large swath of others.

            This funding and the involvement of NGO representatives on government advisory boards is not without risks, however. As one representative of these groups put it, the money and the attention breed a kind of addiction: “One you become accustomed to getting certain sources of funding, you stop looking for other options.”

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