HANOVER, April 8 (RIA Novosti) – The recent wave of inspections of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia is not aimed at restricting their activity but rather at controlling their foreign funding, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“All our actions are not designed to shut down or ban [the operation of NGOs in Russia] but to put under control the financial flows from abroad which are channeled into Russian NGOs involved in domestic political activity,” Putin told reporters.
“We want to know how much foreign money goes to Russia, via which channels and for what purposes,” the Russian president said. “And first of all, we want to know whether these organizations receiving funds from abroad are involved in domestic political activity,” he said. “Russia has a relevant law and everyone will comply with it.”
Nationwide NGO inspections have been taking place in Russia since March. Many observers have linked them to a new law which tightens control on NGOs and obliges those that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents.” The law, requiring NGOs financed from abroad and involved in political activity to register as foreign agents, came into force in Russia in November 2012.
NGOs say the term is a synonym for “spy” and will discredit them in the eyes of the public.
Many NGO activists have complained of unexpected and time-consuming inspections. Russian rights activists claim the unannounced checks, including inspections of the Moscow offices of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Memorial, are intended to scare NGOs funded from abroad and engaged in “political activities.”
The Prosecutor General’s Office said on March 28 that the recent series of NGO spot checks is aimed at establishing their compliance with laws against extremism and the legalization of criminal income.
Putin recently dismissed what he called “alarmist” media reports about the law.
“Organizations financed from abroad are not forbidden to carry out any type of activities, including domestic political activity,” he told the German broadcaster ARD in an interview last week. “The only thing we want to know is who receives the money and where it goes.”
Putin said last week that over 650 Russian NGOs had received 28.3 billion rubles ($903 million) in foreign funding since the NGO law was adopted in Russia last year.
This money, Putin said Monday, could be channeled to help countries in trouble, including crisis-stricken Cyprus. Putin said earlier on Monday Russia would restructure a multibillion euro loan to Cyprus to help the island nation resolve its financial crisis.