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Russian NGO Laws Deliver Another Blow


Things are looking gloomy for civil society in Russia. Photo Credit: Gennady Grachev

Russia’s foreign NGO laws have delivered another hit — this time to one of the U.S.’s largest foundations.

On July 21, the MacArthur Foundation announced that it would be shutting down its operations in Russia until further notice. The foundation cited several laws, including a recent expansion of a 2012 law that required NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as foreign agents. In June 2015, that law was further expanded to grant Russian authorities the power to shut down and/or issue cash fines to those foreign NGOs it deemed “undesirable.”

According to a statement released by the foundation, “These laws, public statements by Russian legislators, and the vote by the Federation Council to include MacArthur on a ‘patriotic stop-list’ of organizations recommended for designation as ‘undesirable’ make it clear that the Russian government regards MacArthur’s continued presence as unwelcome.”

The MacArthur Foundation has operated within the country since 1991 and has awarded over $173 million in grant money. Much of its funding went to projects focusing on nuclear nonproliferation, expanding higher education, and promoting human rights. Throughout the years, some of its major grant recipients included the Academic Education Forum on International Relations, Moscow Helsinki Group, Human Rights Resource Center, Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and more.

Some of MacArthur’s grant recipients have been feeling the heat themselves. Sergei Lukashevsky — director of the Sakharov Museum and Public Center, which has received funding from MacArthur as well — told the Guardian in April, “The situation for independent NGOs is not a case of destruction or genocide but ghettos.”

“You can receive foreign money, but if you do, you then talk with foreigners. You have no contact with any government bodies,” he continued.

If receiving grants from foreign foundations was already a lightning rod for Russian NGOs, it’s likely that situation will only get worse.

“There may be risk for the Russian civil society organizations that seek and receive our funding and to the dedicated Russian citizens that work for us in Moscow,” the foundation noted in its announcement. “In the process of closing our office, we will take all reasonable steps in accordance with law to ensure the safety and well-being of our staff and to work with our grantees to minimize disruption and harm to them.”



Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais