Russia : Putin moves to preserve sovereignty

2005-11-25

Richard Moore

    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

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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.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 
-- 

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