C.S. Mott Foundation Withdraws from Grantmaking in Russia Under Threat of New Law

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July 28, 2015; Guardian

On July 24th, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation declared that it would no longer make any grants in Russia after it emerged that it had been included on that country’s list of potential “undesirables.”

In Russia, legislators have a longish hit list of organizations they would like to banish from their shores, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Carnegie Moscow Center, and the C.S. Mott Foundation. All of these NGOs have been placed on an unofficial “patriotic stop list” by legislators in Russia’s upper house of parliament under a new law that seeks to close NGOs that seem to pose a threat to the country’s national security. The law would provide for the government to close the offices of any foreign NGO deemed to “threaten the foundations of the constitutional order of the Russian federation.” Further, leaders of those organizations can be fined and imprisoned and the organizations themselves may be cut off from doing business with Russian banks. But although the MacArthur Foundation last week closed voluntarily under the threat of the new law (after having been placed on the stop list, the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy won the distinction of being the first to actually be declared undesirable.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is partly funded by Congress, is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world.” According to a statement from the prosecutor general’s office, however, it also “poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and the defensive capability and security of the government.”

“Using Russian commercial and noncommercial organizations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to declare the results of election campaigns illegitimate, organize political actions intended to influence decisions made by the authorities, and discredit service in Russia’s armed forces,” the statement said.

This new law is an escalation from the more-longstanding foreign agents law, which, too, was seen as a move to squelch civil society. The change has been seen by many as a prophylactic, self-protective measure associated with the current recession. President Vladimir Putin told security officials in March that Western intelligence agencies make use of NGOs to “discredit the authorities and destabilize the internal situation in Russia.”

The Putin administration reportedly has a longstanding problem with NED, claiming that it put $14 million into “the Ukrainian Project” that led to the 2014 Euromaidan protests that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. The Guardian writes additionally that NED, USAID, and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ukrainian organizations advocating European-style reforms.—Ruth McCambridge