20 years under Putin: a timeline

On July 7, a so-called “patriotic stop-list” was created in Russia, identifying twelve foreign non-governmental organizations whose activity has been deemed “undesirable” in the country. On July 22, the MacArthur Foundation, included in the stop-list, announced its decision to leave Russia. According to writer Alexander Podrabinek, this is only the beginning of a large-scale campaign against Russian civil society.


Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko (above) believes Russia is being negatively influenced by foreign organizations that, according to her, serve the political interests of their sponsors. Photo: TASS


On July 7, Russia’s Federation Council called on the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry to examine a list of 12 NGOs for the purpose of designating them as “undesirable.” The council’s report calls this blacklist “patriotic” with the same pathos that is usually used to compensate for questionable or illegal initiatives. In today’s Russia, what could be more patriotic than yet another ban?

The accusations levied against these unwanted organizations are as unsophisticated as they come. The report accuses 12 NGOs of receiving foreign financing and thus being politically engaged by the West. The justification for taking measures against these NGOs matches the accusations: Russian authorities have to control the activity of such politically active organizations.

During a press conference on July 6, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko went so far as to divide all NGOs into two categories: those she and people close to her way of thinking welcome, and all others. The former include volunteer-oriented, charitable, socially responsible, and otherwise law-abiding organizations.

The latter, those organizations that are not only involved in politics, but receive foreign funding, do not deserve the government’s approval. “Based on the experience of many countries, we see that the activity of such organizations is often directed at destabilizing the political situation in the country,” Matviyenko said, expressing a fear that is, of course, the driving force behind the stop-list.

Indeed, the several-years-long attack against Russian civil society was triggered by fears of the Putin gang that has usurped power in the country. Clan members are afraid the system built by Vladimir Putin could collapse under the pressure of public discontent—as happened in Georgia, for instance, or Ukraine.

Valentina Matviyenko told journalists, “Russia is currently experiencing the most powerful pressure in 25 years on our political system, our values, our institutions.” She had enough sense not to explain what exactly she meant by the word “our,” since the Russian people’s values are rather different from those of the ruling political clan. Journalists from the parliamentary media pool did not ask the poor woman to clarify her remark, as most of them share the opinion that the motherland and the government are one and the same.

It looks like organizations whose names include such odious words as “democracy,” “freedom,” or “human rights” will be the first to be expelled from public life.

The initial list of 12 organizations that lawmakers suspect of “undesirability” speaks for itself: the Open Society Institute, also known as the Soros Foundation; the National Endowment for Democracy; the International Republican Institute; the National Democratic Institute; the MacArthur Foundation; Freedom House; the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; the Education for Democracy Foundation; the East European Democratic Center; the Ukrainian World Congress; the Ukrainian World Coordinating Council; and the Crimean Field Mission on Human Rights. It looks like organizations whose names include such odious words as “democracy,” “freedom,” or “human rights” will be the first to be expelled from public life.

Moreover, it was openly announced that the “patriotic stop-list” is but the beginning of a large-scale campaign. Matviyenko said that the current list is a preventive measure. The regime would be happy if all other NGOs either sought governmental protection or left Russia.

The Russian government has been envisaging such an outcome since 2012, when it adopted the law on foreign agents in an attempt to strong-arm NGOs into accepting financing from the Kremlin’s dirty sources. The stop-list is only the most recent addition to the package. The targeted organizations are those that represent a threat to a meticulously built system of lawlessness, abuse of power, corruption, and irremovability of government.

It’s clear what will happen next. All NGOs currently independent in their activity and unwilling to lose their independence will sooner or later be closed, including those that do not pose any threat to the regime, even hypothetically—not because the regime is afraid of these NGOs, but simply because it will want to keep everything that is happening in the country under strict governmental control. This is the axiom of totalitarianism, and it seems that this is the future the current regime is preparing for Russia.