Man, oh man — semi-to fully-autocratic, socialist-leaning, personality-cult pushing strongmen really do seem to just love a good conspiracy theory, don’t they? Most especially when it can help quell their country’s dueling factions by spreading a politically convenient “besieged fortress” narrative, with the good ol’ U.S. of A. playing the part everybody’s favorite imperialist aggressor (See: The real source of Hugo Chavez’s cancer, Exhibit A.) Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been a big fan of suggesting that America-funded nongovernmental organizations are just some kind of front for instigating a revolution against his precious regime — which, in practice, I suppose is actually kind of indirectly true, since a lot of these NGOs are human-rights groups dedicated to the rule of law, transparency, exposing corruption, and other such supposed offenses that threaten the stability of perfidious administrations.
Last year, the government signed off on a law that requires all NGOs with foreign funding to register as “foreign agents” (and yes, that is meant to be as pejorative as it sounds), and in the past month alone, Russian officials have randomly searched over two thousand NGOs, reports the Associated Press:
Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty’s Russia chief, told The Associated Press that officials from the general prosecutor’s office and tax police conducted an unannounced audit of his offices. Nikitin said the officials requested documents from the human rights watchdog that the government already has on file. …
Veteran activist Lev Ponomarev’s For Human Rights movement was also visited by officials and an NTV crew on Monday. He wrote a letter to the Moscow prosecutor’s office calling the search illegal, since prosecutors provided no evidence that his organization broke the law.
Public Verdict, a well-known human rights law group, was also searched Monday.
Putin has long been suspicious of NGOs, especially those with American funding, which he has accused of being fronts for U.S. meddling in Russian politics.
And what is it, exactly, that they’re searching for? Unclear, but perhaps they’re just looking for evidence to build up some kind of future case for coercion and/or intimidation:
Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Russia’s oldest human rights activist and the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, is concerned that the recent inspection of NGOs conducted by the law enforcement agencies may lead to the closure of many prominent NGOs in Russia. …
“All our accounting documents have been opened. Such inspections paralyze our operation. It may be a stage for some sanctions against human rights organizations. We’ll see if that will lead to nerve-racking or the closure of our organizations under any pretext,” Alekseyeva said, adding that the Moscow Helsinki Group is expecting an inspection in the next few days. …
“I will tell you one thing: We do not consider ourselves to be agents of foreign states and we will not register as foreign agents, no matter how they inspect us,” she said.
Putin hasn’t been able to claw back his sky-high popularity rating of his glorious yesteryears, by the way; it’s been on a steady and significant relative decline for a few years now — which makes the increasingly vigorous dissent-crushing all the less surprising.