Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office, has issued a clarion call to action against the Kremlin's vicious assault on foreign NGOs, which can now be seen in a the broader context of an overall attack on all democratic institutions, including the outright arrest of numerous elected officials in recent days.
As NGOs feared, the regulations issued by the government agencies in response to the law have introduced harsh restrictions on NGO performance. From now on, NGOs will have to report every detail of their activities. An activity report form is seven small-print pages long and includes accounts of performance, both of the substance of an NGO’s work and its expenses. If money is spent on putting on events, the NGO must detail their number, the topics, and participation. Foreign organizations, such the Heritage Foundation’s Moscow office, also must indicate the cost of office supplies. The regulations will significantly increase an NGO’s expenses.
Russian rights organizations are unanimous in their belief that the worst expectations of this new law are justified. If an NGO cannot be banned directly, the red tape, all-out control, endless check-ups, and a stepped-up financial burden could smother it.
What America Can Do to Support Freedom in Russia
To promote democracy and arrest Russia’s drift to autocracy the Bush Administration should take a resolute action. It should do the following:
Conduct permanent monitoring of the freedom situation in Russia;
Evaluate the scale and nature of the abuse of individual freedom in Russia;
React decisively and protest violations of basic freedoms;
Engage the Russian government in public discussions on every level on the status of freedom in Russia;
Criticize the NGO law and its implementation practices at the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg;
Encourage the U.S. OSCE Commission to hold regular hearings on the status of freedom in Russia;
Call for sanctions against Russia in case of its violent abuse of freedom; and
Provide broad support to the freedom movement in Russia by contacts with freedom fighters, inviting them to international forums, rendering them political and moral assistance.
Russian NGOs and foreign NGO representative offices in Russia remain the stronghold of nascent civil society and freedom in Russia. The work of these organizations cannot be strangled by the intrusions of the Russian government.