Russian prosecutors are conducting wide-ranging checks of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, as part of what rights activists say are President Vladimir Putin‘s efforts to stifle dissent and shield the nation from perceived Western influence.
The inspections and searches have targeted up to 2,000 organizations since last month, said Pavel Chikov, a member of the presidential human rights council. The action followed Putin’s speech in February before senior officers of the FSB, the main KGB successor agency, in which he urged them to focus attention on groups that receive foreign funding used to “put pressure on Russia.”
A team of prosecutors, Justice Ministry officials and tax police spent most of the day Thursday searching the Moscow offices of Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most respected human rights groups. They were accompanied by journalists from the state-controlled NTV station, which has been used by the Kremlin for hatchet jobs against its political foes.
“This is the result of a directive from the very top, from Mr. Putin personally, to go and deal with all the NGOs that are too independent,” Memorial director Oleg Orlov said.
Officials wouldn’t comment on the purpose of the visit, but Arseniy Roginsky of Memorial said it could be linked to a recently passed law requiring all nongovernmental organizations with foreign funding that engage in political activities to register as “foreign agents,” a loaded term conjuring past Soviet spy mania.