US State Department whitewashes Russian NGOs before Russian laws

The Moscow Helsinki Group and the movementFor Human Rights declared the impossibility of applying the status of a "foreign agent" to them. As evidence, they cite a letter from the U.S. State Department, which supposedly confirms their rightness.

The bill adopted by the Russian Parliament in July of this year grants the status of a "foreign agent" to Russian non-commercial organizations engaged in political activities and financed from abroad. The amendments adopted by the absolute majority of deputies have raised a number of complaints on the part of human rights organizations. The latter claimed that they would have no other choice but to stop working, if called so. Allegedly, the status of a "foreign agent" is an insult to them and would discredit their work in the eyes of the Russian society.

The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, threatened to address the authorities of foreign states to include the authors of the bill in the "Magnitsky List." Alexeyeva also requested the names of the deputies, who voted for the bill, should be published on the Internet. To crown it all, Lyudmila Alexeyeva put forward an idea to defiantly refuse from foreign grants and go begging.

The U.S. State Department did not remain indifferent to the cry of the Russian human rights "elite." Patrick Ventrella, an official spokesman for the State Department, expressed "concerns" about this fact. A little bit earlier, during the discussion of the bill in the State Duma, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set out her concerns as well. She promised to find another way to support the Russian NCOs not to put them in jeopardy because of the foreign funding.

A solution to the problem was found. In late July, L. Alexeyeva and L. Ponomarev addressed U.S. President Barack Obama with a request to answer whether Russian human rights organization were "U.S. agents." The letter particularly said that "the organizations are run by the grants from U.S. foundations almost entirely, including the NED Foundation, which is funded by U.S. taxpayers." That is why, the human rights activists asked the president to answer the question whether they were agents of the USA in the standard sense of the word - i.e. "whether the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Movement For Human Rights were authorized to execute the instructions from the U.S. government, and whether the U.S. government, directly or indirectly, influenced the work of the organizations."

It goes without saying that a written response signed by Hillary Clinton did not take long to arrive. She wrote that President Obama asked her to answer in response to the specific question as to whether non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. grants, can be regarded as "agents" of the U.S. government, that the US government does not either impose the goals for the organizations or control their actions, nor does it have a desire to do so. The priorities and activities of non-governmental organizations that receive support from the United States, including the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Movement For Human Rights, are determined by the administrations of these organizations, their employees and activists, but not donors, the message from Ms. Clinton said.

Certainly, it would be surprising to expect something else, but the trick, as it turned out, was different. Being eager to condemn human rights activists and environmentalists, Russian deputies did not take the trouble to look into the Civil Code. Article 1005 of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation "Agency Agreement" states: "1. Under the agency agreement, one party (the agent) undertakes for compensation to perform on behalf of the other party (the principal) legal and other actions in its own name, but at the expense of the principal, or on behalf and at the expense of the principal." If there is no customer (principal) - there is no agent. An agent is only the one who executes principal's order," Lev Ponomarev wrote. Mr. Ponomarev offered the Ministry of Justice to "either publicly state that Obama and Clinton are lying, or decree that the Civil Code does not apply to human rights defenders."

"It is clear that this is a conflict and a truggle for some truth, which the Moscow Helsinki Group advocates. It is clear they will support this view of the situation by evidence or written documents that have no relation to the substance of the amendments passed, - one of the authors of the law about "foreign agents," Alexander Sidyakin told Pravda.Ru. - That is, both the response from the State Department and the references to the articles of the Civil Code - it's a completely different story. The amendments adopted in the spring session of the State Duma, had two criteria in them: the engagement in political activities and receiving the funding from foreign sources. The above-mentioned human rights organizations do not deny that. If one or another non-commercial organization meets both criteria, it automatically falls into the register of legal entities that perform the functions of a foreign agent. Everything else is demagoguery and argumentation from related spheres that are associated with the functioning of a particular legal entity related to the law enforcement practice under the new amendments," said Mr. Sidyakin.

"It is very good that the Moscow Helsinki Group is actively involved in forming an opinion about themselves in the eyes of the civil society. But to say that the rules of law can not be applied to them on the basis of these statements is absurd," said the MP.

This is a matter of jurisprudence only. Returning to sublime lyricism of the honest human rights activists, we would like to note that the amount of official financial assistance, which the MHG receives from abroad (what the organization is accountable for to tax authorities), made up 48.190 million rubles in 2010, or more than $1.5 million. In 2011, the MHG received 34.972 million rubles from foreign sponsors, which was only about 1.1 million dollars.

All in all, as Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon stated in March of this year, the United States had spent $200 million since 2009 to promote democracy and human rights in Russia." The official confirmed that the administration, with the assistance of the Congress, created a separate fund of 50 million dollars to specifically support Russian non-governmental organizations.

It should be remembered that it goes about the U.S. taxpayers' money, and grantors should report the effectiveness of such investments to the Congress. In other words, a recipient organization in Russia provides relevant reports about the execution of the programs, for which the grants were provided, to the U.S. grantors in the face of U.S. non-governmental organizations (USAID, NED, IRI, NDI, etc.). The latter in turn are accountable to the Department of State, etc.

In general, the U.S. State Department does not (at least officially) point to the Russian NGOs what to do. However, it reserves the right to fund only the projects that meet its goals, objectives and needs.

By and large, it seems that the status of the organizations that receive foreign funding is not the problem. The problem is that these organizations do their best to conceal this very fact. They are willing to account for the funding to regulatory authorities, but they are not willing to expose the details of their work to the general public. It would seem that it does not matter how good things can be done: either on behalf of a human rights organization, or a "foreign agent." Especially if there is only a very narrow circle of people aware of those "good things." 

For example, if we judge by the report of the Moscow Helsinki Group in 2011, they were engaged in monitoring the state of affairs with human rights in Russia, conducted several seminars on human rights with the total audience of some 100 people, a number of conferences and produced some printed materials that were distributed either among the "friends", or were left to gather dust somewhere in a warehouse.

Igor Kulagin


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov