A new expanded law on “foreign agents” in Russia comes into force Thursday, signifying an intensifying crackdown on free speech and opposition under President Vladimir Putin that has accelerated as his fortunes in Ukraine have deteriorated.
It’s also further evidence of Russia’s determination to root out what it sees as Western liberal values, coming in the same week Russia’s parliament sent a bill expanding a ban on what it calls “propaganda” of LGBT issues to Putin’s desk.
The 2012 law on Foreign Agents, passed after a wave of public protests against Putin’s return to the presidency, required organizations engaging in political activity and receiving funding from abroad to register as foreign agents and adhere to draconian rules and restrictions.
That law has been gradually updated since then, forming the backbone of an ever tighter stranglehold on civil society in Russia over the past decade. From Thursday that definition is expanded to include not only individuals or organizations receiving funding from abroad but those who have “received support and (or) is under foreign influence”.
Further reading of the law does not offer much in terms of clarification. “Support” by foreign sources is defined not just as financial but “organizational and methodological, or scientific and technical help.” “Influence” can be read, according to the law, as “exacting an influence on an individual by coercion, persuasion or other means.”
This is the point, says Konstantin Von Eggert, a freelance Russian journalist now living in Lithuania. Laws like this that make up what he calls “Putin’s repressive system” are designed to be broad and vague, and selectively applied so as to “scare and paralyze.”
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