In 2004, the United States government donated $45 million to groups in Russia that promote democracy and civil liberties - financing that the State Department has said was intended to address "Russia's inconsistent transition toward a democratic system." If interpreted strictly, as many here fear it would be, the legislation would prohibit Russian organizations from accepting such grants. Suppose Russia gave the ACLU $45 million to address "America's inconsistent implementation of democracy". How many Americans would look favorably on that? How would the White House and media respond? rkm -------------------------------------------------------- http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/25/international/europe/25russia.html November 25, 2005 Putin Defends Reining in Private Groups By STEVEN LEE MYERS MOSCOW, Nov. 24 - President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday defended Russia's right to scrutinize any political activity by foreign and domestic charities and nongovernmental organizations, even as he promised that "civil society in Russia should not suffer." Making his first public remarks on an issue that has caused a furor at home and abroad, Mr. Putin said he would consult with parliamentary leaders on new legislation that would place all private organizations under strict state control and threaten others with being closed down. But he expressed strong support for a core aim of the legislation. "The continuing financing of the political activity from abroad should be, I think, in the state's field of vision," he said in remarks broadcast on state television, "especially if this financing is carried out through the state channels of other countries and these or those organizations functioning in our country and involved in the political activity are, in fact, used as a tool of the foreign policy of other states." His stance sets up a confrontation with the United States and Europe over Western-financed programs intended to create political pluralism and to promote democratic change in Russia. Mr. Putin spoke a day after the lower house of Parliament voted overwhelmingly to give preliminary approval to the legislation, which would force 450,000 private organizations to register under tighter rules next year. Representatives of the organizations said the legislation would burden all organizations and give the authorities new powers to shut down those considered insufficiently loyal to the Kremlin. The draft now being considered would force foreign organizations - including some of the world's most prominent human rights and environmental organizations - to close their offices and seek to reregister as purely Russian organizations, also under new controls over their activities. Officials in Washington have expressed concern about the legislation, but stopped short of publicly demanding that Russia back down. Mr. Putin, meeting with his adviser on human rights and civil society, suggested in his remarks that amendments would be considered. But he did not elaborate on what provisions of the legislation, if any, would be significantly revised. In 2004, the United States government donated $45 million to groups in Russia that promote democracy and civil liberties - financing that the State Department has said was intended to address "Russia's inconsistent transition toward a democratic system." If interpreted strictly, as many here fear it would be, the legislation would prohibit Russian organizations from accepting such grants. Though the legislation was passed Wednesday by a vote of 370 to 18, even some of Mr. Putin's advisers have said publicly that it goes too far. Ella A. Pamfilova, Mr. Putin's adviser on human rights, said she had requested the meeting with the president to discuss the legislation's most onerous provisions. In a telephone interview after Thursday's meeting, she said the president had promised to address her concerns as the legislative process proceeds. The lower house of Parliament must vote two more times before sending the legislation to the upper house and ultimately to Mr. Putin. A second vote is scheduled for Dec. 9. "The president was concerned by the quality of the document and stressed that not a single provision of the law should violate either our Constitution or international law," Ms. Pamfilova said. "He also said it was inadmissible if the work of civil organizations is damaged." The legislation's critics said, however, that the Kremlin was intent on cracking down on one of the last parts of Russia society not already under state control. They cited the Kremlin's fear of foreign and domestic support that could lead to political upheaval like the protests that toppled Ukraine's autocratic government after fraudulent elections a year ago. "One hundred percent of NGO's in Russia will be under the control of the government," Vladimir A. Ryzhkov, an independent member of Parliament who voted against the legislation, said in a telephone interview after the vote, referring to the nongovernmental organizations. "It is one more authoritarian step by the authoritarian regime." Nikolai Khalip contributed reportingfor this article. 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