Russia bans 'undesirable' US-funded foundation

4th December 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russian prosecutors on Friday declared a US-funded foundation an "undesirable" organisation, the fourth entity to be banned under a controversial law targeting foreign groups accused of political meddling in the country.

The US-Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law (USRF), which promotes private sector development and institution building in Russia, will be banned as its activities "present a threat to the foundations of Russia's constitutional system and state security," Russia's prosecutor general said in a statement.

Apart from declaring the foundation "undesirable" the prosecutor also banned its president, US citizen Mark Pomar, from entering Russia until 2025.

Prosecutors accused USRF, which has had an office in Russia since 2009, of financing local NGOs that "participate in political processes", making them "foreign agents" in the eyes of the Russian justice ministry.

In announcing plans to establish USRF in 2006, President Vladimir Putin and his then American counterpart, George W. Bush, said they wanted to promote economic development and strengthen bilateral ties, according to the organisation's website.

The US embassy in Moscow said it was "deeply troubled" by the decision to ban the USRF.

"We see this move by the Russian government as another deliberate step to further isolate the Russian people from the world," the US ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, said in a statement.

USRF could not be reached for comment.

Critics of the law on "undesirable" organisations say it strips local NGOs of crucial funding they could not receive from domestic donors. Under the law, Russian activists who cooperate with banned groups can face fines and prison time.

On Monday, Russia banned the Open Society Foundations, a charity founded by Hungarian-born US magnate and philanthropist George Soros.

Russia's prominent Civic Assistance Committee, which campaigns for the rights of refugees and migrant workers, said the move jeopardised its Soros-funded aid programmes.

"Thanks to the government we are once again severely limited while our wards are left without help," the committee said in an email.

Russia has upped pressure on civil society groups since Putin's reelection in 2012, adopting a law allowing authorities to brand groups engaging in broadly-defined "political activity" and that receive funding from abroad as "foreign agents".

More than 100 groups, ranging from some of Russia's leading rights groups to small regional organisations, have received the tag, reminiscent of the Soviet crackdown on dissidents.

© 2015 AFP

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