“In another apparent tit for tat provoked by the Magnitsky Act, Russia said Wednesday that it was withdrawing from an agreement that provided help from the United States in fighting narcotics and human trafficking and enhancing the rule of law,” The Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports:
Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University and an expert on Russian security issues, said that while Russia has the need for financial assistance it had 10 years ago, there was no reason to scrap the agreement.
“The fact that they have done this is more a symptom of Moscow trying to look for ways to signal its displeasure with Washington following Magnitsky,” Galeotti said in an e-mail, “and it also underlines the lack of practical and meaningful ways of doing so that the Russians have at their disposal.”
The news coincides with the first reading of a bill prohibiting the dissemination of “gay propaganda.”
“This is part of a concentrated effort by the Russian authorities to create a new political cleavage between the conservative, pro-Putin majority and the more liberal, pro-Western minority,” said Grigory Golosov, project director for the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Helix in St. Petersburg, referring to the anti-gay measures. “They have to invent issues around which such a cleavage can be manufactured.”
Other observers were more strident in their comments.
“Homophobia raised to the level of state politics is classic fascism,” said Georgy Satarov, a Boris Yeltsin-era liberal and head of the anti-corruption Indem Foundation. “Do you want your children to study under fascism?”
Some Russian NGOs fear prosecution under a new treason law, which recently followed legislation requiring externally-funded groups to register as “foreign agents.”
But Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov has told the Duma that he does not intend to implement the “foreign agent” law, according to the Gazeta.ru newspaper. Rather than compile a list of foreign agents, his ministry would wait for law enforcement agencies to propose candidates.
“We are unable to monitor organizations for foreign funding,” Konovalov said.
One analyst contends that the Duma’s “best efforts to run an intimidation campaign are being systematically mocked and ignored by those in power.”
“In recent months, Russia has adopted a slew of regulations — on freedom of assembly, free speech, the Internet, non-governmental organizations, gays and foreign adoptions — that would place it among the most repressive and backward nations on Earth,” writes editor and novelist Leonid Bershidsky.
“For the most part, though, the parliament has succeeded in painting Russia as a country where civil liberties are ruthlessly repressed — without having much actual effect,” he argues.
“The experience of the last eight or nine months has taught us that the Duma is just working for its own sake,” said journalist Yuri Saprykin, a leading figure in last winter’s protest movement. To enforce the laws as written, “you would have to induct half the country into the police force and sick them on the other half.”
According to Bershidsky, the Duma “has used its year in power to turn Russia from a pretend democracy into an equally fake dictatorship.”
NDI and IRI are two of the National Endowment for Democracy’s core institutes.