20 years under Putin: a timeline

On October 29, 2020, the Institute of Modern Russia (IMR) and Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) hosted a virtual discussion following the release of IMR's new report titled “Russia under Putin: 20 Years of Battling over Civil Society.” The report is the second in the series of IMR's project dedicated to Russia under Vladimir Putin's 20-year long rule. Participants in the discussion included civil society researcher Yana Gorokhovskaia, Miriam Lanskoy (NED), Denis Volkov (Levada Center), and Edward Lucas (CEPA). IMR's Olga Khvostunova moderated.





This report is the second in IMR’s 2020 “Russia under Putin” series. Using original interviews with experts and practitioners, statistical accounts, media reports, and secondary literature, we examine how the authoritarian political regime established in Russia over the last twenty years has affected the development of civil society organizations.

Although on paper Russia seems to have as large a civil society sector as other post-communist states, in reality we find that official government statistics fail to accurately capture the number of civil society organizations operating today. Too many organizations fall under the umbrella of “nonprofit” under Russian law, and incomplete or unenforced reporting requirements mean that only a fraction of the officially registered organizations are actually active. Data inconsistencies within existing reports on civil society organizations produced both by Russian and international monitoring groups further complicate efforts to quantify the sector.

Using original data from a sample of organizations in five Russian regions, we highlight several characteristics of civil society organizations: most organizations are durable; a plurality focus on social welfare issues; nearly all have an active online presence; and a little over half are headed by women.

Delving into the development of the sector, we find that the most prominent trend of the last twenty years has been increasing state control over civil society organizations motivated by suspicion of non-state influences over society. Using regulations, funding schemes, and closer integration with state agencies, Vladimir Putin’s regime has divided Russian civil society organization into “good” and “bad” actors, seeking to promote some as partners of the state and frame others as a security threat.

In spite of their vulnerability, Russia’s civil society organizations continue to be vibrant. We document how organizations of different types have responded to repressive legislation, continuing to raise awareness of socio-political issues and representing the interests of the people they serve. We conclude this report with five recommendations that urge policymakers, funders, and others to recognize the independence and diversity of Russia’s civil society organizations and think creatively about how to help this important sector..


Watch the discussion: