The Russian government has designated yet another non-governmental organization as a so-called “foreign agent.” The United States is deeply troubled by the action taken against the Levada Center, an internationally respected public opinion and polling organization. The decision by Russian authorities came two weeks before nationwide parliamentary elections and days after a poll showed sliding support for the governing party, United Russia.
“Polling,” said U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner, “is an important tool in any country that seeks to live by democratic standards of openness, accountability in government, and freedom of scientific inquiry. These are principles Russia should seek to promote, we believe, and not silence.”
Under the 2015 Law on Undesirable Foreign Organizations, groups can be banned from operating on Russian soil if they are seen to pose a threat to the state's constitutional order, national defense, or security.
The Russian government has designated now 141 organizations as so-called “foreign agents.” Authorities have targeted nongovernmental and business associations working to protect the environment, fight the spread of HIV, and promote transparency, good governance, and freedom of expression.
At the end of August, Russian authorities banned the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, or IRI, and the Media Development Investment Fund, or MDIF, from operating in Russia.
Throughout the world the IRI and MDIF promote openness, accountability in government, and media freedom, principles Russia should seek to promote, not to suppress. In a press release the IRI said, “This move really says more about [Russian President] Vladimir Putin than it does about IRI. It's further proof that he fears democracy and allowing his people to have an opportunity to shape their own future."
Other banned U.S. non-governmental organizations include the IRI's sister organization the National Democratic Institute and their funder, the National Endowment for Democracy.
These organizations, said Deputy Spokesperson Toner, are essential for Russians to achieve transparent and accountable government, equal treatment under the law, and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.