Kremlin Tightens Control of Nonprofits
Published: October 3, 2012 (Issue # 1729)
The Foreign Ministry says USAID used grants to try and influence Russian politics.
MOSCOW ŚáOnáMonday, theásame day that theáU.S. Agency foráInternational Development ended its 20-year presence ináRussia, President Vladimir Putin proposed bringing nonprofit groups that provide social services under closer government supervision, Interfax reported.
Aáplan outlining criteria foráevaluating theáquality ofáservices provided byánonprofits, as well as aápublic ratings system, should be finalized byáApril 1, Putin said Monday.
He also told aágroup ofápensioners that theágovernment would boost funding foránonprofits toá3 billion rubles ($96 million).
Fifty-seven nonprofits operating ináRussia, fromáhuman rights watchdogs toáHIV/AIDS prevention groups, are set toálose out onámillions ofádollars ináU.S. government grants following theáKremlinĺs decision toákick out USAID, which was announced last month.
TheáForeign Ministry said USAID used grants toátry toáinfluence Russian politics, including elections andácivil society institutions.
Like many NGOs, election monitor Golos, whose reports ofáviolations during theáState Duma elections ináDecember helped spark massive street protests, has reacted with aámix ofádefiance andádisappointment.
ôWe will continue monitoring [elections] no matter what,ö Golos said ináa statement atáthe time.
OnáMonday, Golos director Lilia Shibanova struck aásomewhat less strident chord, saying theáorganization would monitor theáOct. 14 municipal elections as planned, barring any additional ônews.ö
This is because nonprofits can spend grant money that theyĺve already received, she said.
Asked whether Golos had found any new donors, Shibanova laughed. ôOf course not, you canĺt find additional financing that fast.ö New grants would take six months or more toámaterialize, she said.
Golos expects toáprovide anáonline map ofáelections violations, aáfree hotline, andátraining forávote monitors iná22 regions, theástatement said.
Despite USAIDĺs eviction andáa new law compelling nonprofits that receive foreign funds toáregister as ôforeign agents,ö Putin insisted that Russiaĺs policy towards nonprofits was unrestrictive.
ôWe donĺt have any limits or bans onáNGOsĺ use ofáfunds andáaid, including that provided byáforeign donors. This will only be welcomed,ö he said Monday.
Alexei Malashenko, anáanalyst with theáCarnegie Center, said Mondayĺs announcement was part ofáa larger trend ofáexpanding government control.
ôIf you look around, you will see that inápractically all directions, [Putin] does theásame thing. Itĺs very bad, andáI canĺt imagine that he will be able toáchange something,ö he said byátelephone.
Yelena Gerasimova, director ofáthe Center foráSocial andáLabor Rights, which received USAID funding, doubted whether aáratings system or additional funds would be useful or fair.
Three years ofáapplying forágrants through theáPublic Chamber had yielded nothing, andáeven if they had, Russian government grants tend toábe small, narrowly focused andáwrapped ináred tape, she said byátelephone.
ôWhoĺs going toádo theáevaluations? How are they going toábe developed? How are they going toábe carried out? There are many more questions than answers,ö she said.
Theáloss ofáUSAID funding will hit nonprofits differently, depending onátheir revenue streams.
Perspektiva, which defends theárights ofápeople with disabilities, was set toálose about aáthird ofáits budget, director Denise Roza said last month. Public health advocate University Research Company was faced with completely halting operations ináRussia, director Viktor Boguslavsky said atáthe time.
Other organizations interviewed byáThe St. Petersburg Times said they would do their best toácarry on, freezing USAID-funded projects andálooking foráadditional sponsors while trying toámaintain existing projects andástaff.
Davron Mukhamadiyev, head ofáthe Russian Red Cross Society, said theádemise ofáUSAID would accelerate aátrend ofádecentralization foráhis organization, ináwhich Red Cross projects are handed over toálocal partners.
ôOur main focus foráthe last two toáthree years was how toáshift this kind ofásupport fromáinternational sources toálocal sources. Inámany regions, local authorities have already adopted special legislation, including special expenses forácounseling andáother support forátuberculosis patients,ö he said.
Foráexample, theáRed Cross will now consider handing over aáprogram that provides counseling andáother support toáabout 650 patients ináthe outpatient phase.
USAID spent $54.2 million ináRussia iná2011, almost half ofáwhich ($22.2 million) went toáprojects related toáhuman rights, democracy andágovernance, according toáofficial data.