President Vladimir Putin maintains that Russia does not prohibit the activities of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as long as these abide by the country's laws, refrain from meddling in internal politics and inciting extremism and civil disobedience in the country.
He told Russia's state-owned TASS News Agency in an interview for the project titled "20 Questions with Vladimir Putin" that any non-governmental organizations operating on Russian territory, including religious ones, must necessarily respect and comply with the Russian law.
The purpose of the law on non-governmental organizations including media and religious groups is simply to protect Russia from external meddling in its politics. Significantly, such organizations were often not very eager to declare that they were involved in domestic affairs and were doing so using money from foreign sources.
"While some countries prohibit the activity of such organizations, we don't ban it. They are free to keep working. By the way, this practice is a well-established one. They continue to work, but they are required to report if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in internal political activity. Nobody's rights are infringed on here whatsoever. There is nothing that runs counter to international practice," Putin stressed in the interview.
"We need to have a very clear idea of what internal political activity is. We need to ensure that there are no misconceptions. And we need to ensure that no other activity – involving humanitarian matters, for instance, public health or environmental protection – is used as a disguise to engage in domestic political affairs," he added.
Putin recalled that legislation on foreign agents was first created in the United States back in the late 1930s and has been actively used ever since. It stipulates different penalties, even incarceration. In the meantime, in Russia only administrative penalties for this type of violation are in effect.
The law stipulates that the status of foreign mass media outlets acting as foreign agents can be assigned to individuals if they spread [disseminate] content [including that in the internet] meant for an unlimited range of persons and receive financing from outside the country. This concerns cash transfers and other assets obtained from foreign countries, their official agencies, international and foreign organizations and foreign individuals or Russian legal entities that receive cash from the aforesaid sources.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NGOs in Russia and in Eastern European bloc began to function actively with the enormous grants they received from the United States and other European countries. Funding came from organizations such as Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie, Ford and many others. However, foreign funded NGOs and their activism created much resentment in Putin's administration.