Russian Actions against Greenpeace International Part of a Familiar Trend

Last week, the CGP blog commented on the state of the CSO sector in Russia amidst the oncoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the country. The highly controversial interactions between the environmental group Greenpeace International and the Russian government in the past weeks align with the past grievances we reported on:

A Russian coastguard official points a knife at a Greenpeace International activist who tried to scale an oil platform owned by state-owned energy giant Gazprom (Source: Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace).

30 people from 18 countries detained on the Greenpeace International ship “Arctic Sunrise” are awaiting trial on piracy charges and face up to 15 years in prison if convicted related to a September 18th  incident in which some of the activists tried to scale an oil rig in the Pechora Sea owned by the national oil-giant Gazprom. The activists may spend up to two months in pre-trial detention in a Murmansk jail awaiting the decision of Russian prosecutors. Greenpeace International director Kumi Naidoo called the seizure of the vessel and the arrest of its crew the worst “assault” on the environmental activist organization since one of its ships was bombed in 1985. The detained activists are reportedly being kept in “solitary confinement for 23 hours a day,” while others are held in “extremely cold cells.” Russian officials have called the protest “pure provocation” and an “encroachment on the sovereignty” of Russia.

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Reverse Perestroika: Russian Regulation of NGOs

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Over the course of the weekend, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that unleashed a new wave of regulations on the nation’s 220,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Passed by the upper house of parliament earlier in July, the legislation will force NGOs that engage in “political activity” and receive funding from abroad to register with the government and file detailed reports of the organization’s activities. Failure to comply with the provisions carry fines up to $9,000 or 2 years in prison. The measures have revived the controversy concerning the transparency of the Russian government and its commitment to democratic institutions.

A reaction to some of the largest anti-government protests since the fall of the USSR, the law was intentionally designed to restrict and suppress opposition political activity, a long-term goal of Putin’s United Russia party. The government, marred by allegations of electoral fraud and widespread corruption, intentionally designed the policy to restrict certain avenues of political speech and expression. Like the recent NGO bans and regulations in Egypt, Libya, and Zimbabwe, Russia’s NGO law will weaken dissent and the establishment of viable competition in the political arena. Continue reading