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Russia names National Endowment for Democracy the first 'undesirable' foreign group

MOSCOW – Russian prosecutors on Tuesday declared the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy the first “undesirable” foreign group under a controversial new law to ban overseas organizations deemed a threat.

The move is part of what critics say is a Kremlin-backed drive against civil society being fuelled by growing anti-Western rhetoric over the Ukraine crisis.

“Taking into account the overall aim of the Endowment’s work, prosecutors came to the conclusion that it presents a threat to the constitutional order of Russia, its defense capabilities and state security,” the prosecutors said in a statement.

Prosecutors accused the U.S. nonprofit organization, which claims to support “freedom around the world,” of using local NGOs to undermine elections and organize political rallies in the country.

“The National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to declare the results of election campaigns illegitimate, to organize political demonstrations aimed at influencing decisions taken by state institutions and to discredit service in the Russian armed forces,” the statement said.

The decision — which now needs to be rubber-stamped by the Justice Ministry — will see the Endowment barred from opening offices in Russia or funding any groups or individuals in the country.

Prosecutors said that in 2013 and 2014 the foundation gave funding worth around $5.2 million to local organizations.

The move comes as Russia and the West are locked in their worst standoff since the end of the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine.

Russian officials led by Putin and state-owned media claim that the West is trying to sow revolution in the country after the ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader in Kiev in 2014.

Critics say that the authorities are whipping up anti-Western hysteria over alleged foreign meddling in a bid to further cement their political grip on Russia.

The controversial new law could see Russian activists jailed for up to six years for “participation in the activities” of any banned organization.


‘Democratic goals’ 

The National Endowment for Democracy says it receives funding from the U.S. Congress to bolster organizations “working for democratic goals in more than 90 countries.”

Groups in Russia it has given funding to listed on its website include anti-corruption groups, those working on freedom of association and human rights organizations.

Earlier this month, Russian senators compiled an official proposal to blacklist 12 foreign NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy.

Among the other organisations on the lawmakers’ list was the U.S.-based MacArthur foundation, which last week announced it was closing its office in Moscow.

On Tuesday, a top Russian rights group supporting torture victims said that it is being forced to close after being branded a “foreign agent,” but that it will relaunch under a new name.

International rights groups have condemned the “undesirable” foreign organizations law as the latest step in an official campaign to clamp down on civil society during Putin’s third term.

Moscow passed a law in 2012 shortly after mass protests against Putin’s return to the presidency forcing local NGOs that get funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents”.

Dozens of organizations including leading human rights groups have been hit by the legislation, which evokes the anti-U.S. rhetoric of the Soviet period.

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Ken Morris

Russia is right.

There is very little that’s not slimy about the so-called National Endowment for Democracy–starting with its name. It was set up by the Reagonites to promote their rightwing agenda globally, not necessarily to promote democracy or freedom. It was also established in such a way that it can be used as a tool by the US government while appearing to be a private nonprofit. As noted in the article, the US Congress actually funds this supposed nonprofit. But by appearing to be a private nonprofit and technically maintaining that status, the NED can pursue foreign policy objectives that would embarrass Washington and alarm many Americas if undertaken by the government.

Generally the so-called National Endowment for Democracy funds rightwing groups around the world by calling them “civil society” groups important for “democracy.” Strangely though it never finds a leftwing group that represents “civil society” or furthers “democracy,” as it arbitrarily defines these terms.

And since this article is running in the Tico Times, it merits emphasis that the National Endowment for Democracy was specifically founded to augment the Reagan administration’s anti-left agenda during the wars in Central America, when the US Congress refused to support that agenda. It was an end run around Congress by the rightwingers, and Nicaragua still especially endures this indirect interference in their politics by this charade of an NGO.

BTW, for anyone who supports a rightwing foreign policy stance by the US, I say fine. It’s part of democracy for people to disagree about these things, and if the rightwingers win an up or down vote to enable them to pursue their agenda, I’ll accept that. What I can’t accept is an undemocratic shadowy NGO funded by the US promoting a rightwing agenda and calling their agenda democracy.

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