There has been an increase in anti-civil society measures in Russia since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s third term in 2012. Many are already familiar with the spate of suspicious murders of prominent anti-Putin journalists in Russia. Critics of Putin and his regime are often characterized as serving foreign interests, or seeking to undermine Russian stability. Furthermore, those advocating policy or governmental alternatives are accused of importing Western ideas that run counter to Russian culture and values.
A prominent example of this trend has been Russian efforts to counter what it has called gay propaganda. Efforts in Russia to promote sexual orientation equality and efforts to promote LGBTQ rights have been suppressed by the government. Specifically, the Russian government argues that these notions are Western creations and do no belong in Russia. Russia’s parliament unanimously passed an anti-gay propaganda law in 2013, making it illegal to distribute information on alternatives lifestyles. Individuals and organizations could face fines, with many arguing that the legislation further limited freedom of speech in Russia.
Following in this trend, the Russian Duma (lower house of parliament) voted 440-3-1 in favour of a new measure on ‘undesirable foreign groups.’ The law is expected to easily pass the upper house, before being sent to Putin for signing. What this new measure seeks to accomplish is identify foreign and international organizations that are threats to stability and remove them from the country.
Specifically, organizations that threaten state security or constitutional order are targeted by this new measure. The term “constitutional order” is interesting as it would characterize groups seeking constitutional change or advocating ulterior views as hostiles. International human rights group are likely to fall victim to this new law, especially those advocating protection for LGBTQ individuals. The overall wording of the measure is itself extremely open to interpretation, with “undesirable” a worrying catch-all that has serious implication for Russian society.