The European Union and the United States condemned Russia’s new legislation regarding “undesirable” non-profits. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Saturday (23 May) that will enable it to target foreign groups whose “undesirable activities” could endanger “basic values of the Russian state”. Under this new law, such institutions can be outlawed in the country. The EU said that the law that passed through the two chambers of the Russian parliament is a “worrying step in a series of restrictions on civil society, independent media and political opposition”. A spokesperson of the EU’s foreign services commented that “it will restrict freedom of speech and media as well as pluralism of opinion”.
Washington similarly raised its concerns that the new piece of legislation only reflects the increasing insensitivity of the Kremlin to any criticism. Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman of the U.S. State Department, said in a statement that “We are concerned this new power will further restrict the work of civil society in Russia and is a further example of the Russian government’s growing crackdown on independent voices and intentional steps to isolate the Russian people from the world”. She added that “Russians, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governance, equal treatment under the law and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.”
The new legislation builds on the existing laws that are basically labeling NGOs with foreign funding “foreign agents”. The earlier laws were passed in 2012, just before Vladimir Putin started his third presidential term. The Kremlin is increasingly worried that NATO is attempting to undermine the country and internal criticism is therefore often seen as the work of traitors and spies. Opponents of the new legislation claim that the lax wording of the law means that it could be used to target basically any organization.