Putin: foreign agents law not perfect but not useless
Vladimir Putin says foreign agents’ law may not be perfect but is not useless
Moscow 23 June 2015
At the annual plenary meeting of the federal public chamber, the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, observed that NGOs were a delicate instrument for balancing different public interests and acknowledged that the above law needed reforming.
The president took part in the annual plenary meeting of the chamber which commemorated the tenth anniversary of its creation. He declared that the federal chamber, the National People’s Front and the regional chambers were important instruments for achieving a well-balanced society and were ever more finely honed for the purpose. This was why, he stressed, the government was giving, and certain to go on giving, support to that kind of activity,
He accepted that the law needed further improvement. His own experience showed that there were provisions that needed clarifying and sometimes even damaged the activities of perfectly loyal pro-Russian organisations designed to help people. However, he stressed that experience had shown introduction of the law to have been neither arbitrary nor useless. He cited the guidance for Russian tourists going on holiday to Crimea issued by the interregional association for the protection of consumers’ rights, Obshchestvenny Kontrol (Public Monitor) (OK). In OK’s guidance Sevastopol and Crimea were classed as occupied territories and for their own safety tourists were advised to observe Ukrainian legislation and to cross the border only with permission from Ukrainian border control in the Kherson Region.
Mr Putin considered that this advice served the interests of foreign states against Russia. It was for that reason that the concept of the foreign agent was introduced so that foreign states did not use similar methods to interfere in Russia’s internal politics.
The question of creating a unitary register of NGOs was raised at the plenary session. Mr Putin had addressed the January 2015 national forum on the state and civil society working together for development, on the subject. Member of the federal public chamber Elena Topoleva said that that very day an agreement had been made under the aegis of the ministry of justice for creating such a register. She emphasised that the register should not become an additional burden for NGOs. It should help organisations to present additional information about themselves. She explained that everyone from members of the public to officials would be able to consult the register and find out who was doing what.
Ms Topoleva went on to say that the register would inter alia divide organisations into categories like socially oriented NGOs, with a narrower subdivision comprising NGOs of enhanced social effectiveness. Such organisations would be able to claim privileges associated with their work. She instanced above all special taxation status. It was proposed to set up a committee at the ministry consisting of representatives of appropriate departments and communal bodies, namely the federal public chamber, regional public chambers and the presidential council for the development of civil society and human rights.
Mr Putin thought that tax exemptions would be open to abuse. He explained that once exemptions were granted, goods – anything from nails to diamonds – would appear purporting to have been produced in the voluntary sector. They would all come under the NGO label. Sorting out which was which and the bureaucracy for the purpose would be complex and sometimes impracticable.
However, he agreed that NGOs whose work was fundamentally not profit motivated were impeded by the attentions of the tax authorities. NGOs needed some help without a doubt. There were features of the system that seemed unfair. He suggested a joint effort be made to think of ways in which state support for NGOs could be improved.