Russian science fund facing closure over 'foreign agent' tag

26th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

The founder of one of Russia's leading private foundations supporting scientific research warned Tuesday he might halt funding after it was labelled a "foreign agent" under a controversial law.

The Dynasty Foundation -- set up by Russian ex-telecoms magnate Dmitry Zimin -- was branded a "foreign agent" by authorities Monday under 2012 legislation targeting NGOs that receive funding from abroad.

"I obviously don't want to spend my own money and be accused of doing it on behalf of a foreign government," Zimin told Russia's Interfax news agency.

The nonprofit foundation -- which has a 2015 budget of some $8.6 million to fund scientific research and teaching -- said in a statement that a decision on its future would be taken at a meeting on June 8.

Scores of non-governmental organisations, from environmental groups to human rights defenders, have been branded "foreign agents" in what activists say is a concerted Kremlin crackdown on civil society.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov defended the decision to include Dynasty on the list of foreign agents and said that it could always appeal.

"If Zimin receives money from abroad, then in accordance with the law it is included on the list of foreign agents," Peskov said.

"If he has been included on the list but did not get any money from abroad then there is a basis to challenge the decision in court."

The news led to worry and disbelief in the scientific community.

One recipient of the fund's popular science book grant demonstrated near the justice ministry with a homemade sign reading "You're the foreign agents."

Peskov said later in the day that he did not understand such a "hypertrophied reaction" to the foundation's inclusion, and that the issue was discussed at a meeting President Vladimir Putin held with members of the business community Tuesday.

- 'Great loss for science' -

Dynasty's grant is one of the few incentives to keep young scientists from leaving Russia and help them focus on research, said one previous recipient Ivan Kulakovsky, a biologist.

"I only stayed in Russia because I won this grant" in 2012, he told AFP, calling the ministry's decision "a blow to the reputation of Russian science."

"The best researchers, the most active, those who were trying to integrate our scientific community to the global one, these people will leave now. It will be a great loss for science."

Influential former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin said the decision to brand Dynasty a "foreign agent" showed up the failings in the controversial legislation.

"Registering Dynasty on the list of foreign agents proves that the law is flawed," Kudrin wrote on Twitter.

In a step seen as a further stage in the Kremlin's clampdown on civil society, Russian President Vladimir Putin at the weekend signed off on a law that would allow authorities to ban foreign NGOs deemed "undesirable" to the state.

Supporters of Putin say the various laws are designed to stop NGOs fomenting an anti-Kremlin revolution in Russia with the help of Western governments.

Critics however argue that Putin stirs popular paranoia over foreign meddling to cement his grip on power and allow a corrupt elite around him to pillage the country's vast wealth.

© 2015 AFP

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