Table of Contents


The Russian government began tightening its regulatory control over civil society during President Vladimir Putin’s second term. This effort accelerated in the wake of Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, after months of large-scale antigovernment protest.

Three key features have characterized the Russian government’s efforts to reshape civil society:

  • A focus on discrediting foreign-funded groups, which are portrayed as undermining Russia’s national sovereignty and harming the collective good.
  • A reliance on bureaucratic and legal tools to weaken independent civic actors, combined with selective prosecutions aimed at intimidating civil society as a whole.
  • A related effort to fund and promote apolitical and pro-government organizations as socially useful, while at the same time maintaining tight state control over the entire sector.

Extending Executive Control

A Corporatist Vision of Civil Society

In Russia, the Soviet state’s monopoly over public life left a legacy of mistrust toward civic activism and autonomous organizational networks. During the 1990s, the term civil society was used almost exclusively by a small group of reform-oriented organizations supported primarily by Western donors eager to support Russia’s fledgling democracy. These organizations saw their role as holding the state accountable to global norms of governance, and they rejected close collaboration with the government. Still in a nascent state, they tended to operate in relative isolation from one another and from society at large.8

When Putin first came to power in 2000, he emphasized the importance of building a strong and vibrant civil society. However, it quickly became clear that his vision of civil society was at odds with that of the growing circle of independent groups that had mushroomed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Putin’s view, these organizations were foreign imposed and alien to Russian society and political culture.9 His speeches in the early 2000s emphasized the need to integrate civil society into the Russian executive’s chain of command, as a network of organizations that would represent citizen interests in state-approved public venues while simultaneously reinforcing state authority.10 Far from representing a new approach in the Russian context, this vision closely aligned with the country’s long-standing tradition of centralized, top-down governance.

Toward the end of his first term, Putin began building the organizational and regulatory structures for a more corporatist civil society. The Kremlin used the escalating war on domestic terrorism to concentrate power in the executive branch.11 Following the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis, Putin created the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, an advisory body of 126 appointed individuals from various social and professional domains tasked with providing expert input on legislative proposals.12 Parallel bodies were established at the regional level and within various government agencies.13 However, their role remained limited: whenever an advisory council broke through the boundaries of acceptable political discourse, its members were quickly demoted.14 The Public Chamber at times openly challenged government policy, but it lacked independent resources and investigative powers to follow up on its recommendations. Russian authorities encouraged civil society organizations to interact with the chamber rather than directly with government officials, but always in a consultative role and without exerting actual reform pressure on state institutions.15 Many independent groups dismissed these initiatives as a smokescreen for the executive’s increasing centralization of power and refused to cooperate.16

The First Wave of Restrictions

In the mid-2000s, the environment for NGOs critical of government policy started deteriorating. In response to the so-called color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, Russian officials stepped up their verbal attacks on foreign-funded groups and began imposing legal constraints on civil society.17 The 2006 NGO law gave authorities the power to deny registration to any organization whose goals and objectives “create a threat to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity, unique character, cultural heritage, and national interests of the Russian Federation.”18 It also implemented new burdensome reporting requirements for groups receiving foreign support and expanded the power of government authorities to interfere in the creation and operation of NGOs.19 The government justified the law by arguing that it was necessary to foster greater transparency in the sector and encourage the development of domestic funding sources.20 In a further move to restrict foreign funding flows, Putin in 2008 issued a decree that reduced the number of foreign and international organizations allowed to give tax-free grants in Russia from 101 to twelve.21

The new legal framework hit human rights and political advocacy organizations the hardest. Many experienced repeated harassment by state officials and found that some of their activities were suddenly blocked or delayed. In several cases, Russian officials used a 2002 law on countering extremist activity—defined broadly to include vague charges such as “inciting racial hatred” and “accusing a public official of acts of terrorism”—to inspect NGOs and investigate their activities.22 For example, the Moscow-based Civic Assistance Committee, an NGO that focuses on migrant and refugee rights, was subjected to a criminal investigation after a parliamentarian accused the group of giving cover to “ethnic criminal groupings.”23 Organizations suddenly had to devote more time and resources to complying with onerous reporting requirements and often had to wait months before their planned activities could be resumed. At the same time, pro-government media outlets scaled up their campaign against foreign-funded NGOs, portraying them as tools of Western intelligence services working to provoke or overthrow the Russian government. The result was a definitive choking effect on independent civil society.

A Double-Down On Repression

An Unprecedented Internal Challenge

The crackdown on Russian civil society intensified as antigovernment protests spread following flawed parliamentary elections in December 2011. Faced with the largest antigovernment mobilization since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian regime used its already consolidated control over television and key newspapers to ramp up its rhetoric against civil society activists. Throughout the election campaign, Putin repeated his accusation that unspecified “recipients of foreign grants” were following “the instructions of foreign governments” and interfering with Russia’s elections.24 Other officials echoed these accusations, warning of a Libya-style uprising that would throw the country into disarray.25 State media outlets also tried to discredit the demonstrators by dismissing them as “well-fed” and “angry urbanites” out of touch with the rest of the country.26

This campaign of delegitimization laid the groundwork for a political and legal counteroffensive.

This campaign of delegitimization laid the groundwork for a political and legal counteroffensive. Once reelected, Putin rapidly brought his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev’s limited attempts at modernization to a halt. United Russia’s control of the Federal Assembly proved a crucial tool in this regard: the legislature moved quickly to push through a host of restrictive measures aimed at limiting freedoms of association, expression, and assembly. These included a dramatic increase in fines for violating rules on the participation in and organization of public protests, the reintroduction of defamation as a criminal offense for media outlets, amendments that increased Internet censorship, and changes to the criminal code expanding the definition of treason in ways that could be interpreted as criminalizing involvement in international human rights advocacy.27 More than thirty people were charged with organizing mass riots and assaulting police during clashes at a rally on Bolotnaya Square the day before Putin’s inauguration—which civil society activists considered a politically motivated effort to discourage further civic mobilization.28

The Foreign Agents Law

It was in this tense political climate that a new NGO law was fast-tracked through the Federal Assembly (the Russian Parliament) and came into force in November 2012. The so-called foreign agents law required all organizations engaged in “political activities” and receiving or planning to receive foreign funding to register with the Ministry of Justice as “carrying functions of a foreign agent.”29 Designated foreign agents were obliged to follow a new set of burdensome administrative requirements and could be subjected to unscheduled audits. In a direct throwback to Soviet repression tactics, they were required to identify themselves in all public communications, presentations, and publications as foreign agents—a term that in Russia carries the clear connotation of a foreign spy or traitor.30 According to the law, organizations that fail to voluntarily register as foreign agents risk suspension for up to six months, while failure to comply with registration, auditing, and reporting rules can be punished with fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,931).31 The law’s original definition of political activities was extremely vague, raising concerns that the provision could be selectively used against any organization critical of the government.32

In the summer of 2012, the Russian government also moved to end all programs of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Russia. The agency had operated in the country since the end of the Cold War, funding a multitude of public health and judicial reform programs while also providing support to civil society organizations.33 The government accused USAID of meddling in Russia’s domestic politics by funding election monitoring and other prodemocracy initiatives.34 The decision to expel USAID exacerbated fears among civil society activists, who anticipated dramatic funding losses.35 A few months later, the Federal Assembly followed up with the Dima Yakovlev law, which allows the suspension, without a court order, of U.S.-funded organizations that participate in political activities or implement activities that represent a “threat to the interests of Russia.”36 Together, these new measures represented a concerted effort to limit external funding flows to Russian civil society organizations.

Stalled Implementation

The foreign agents law initially relied on voluntary registration. However, Russian NGOs that received foreign funding decided almost unanimously to boycott the measure.37 Some activists argued that the designation was of little importance to their work, but most felt that the label would negatively affect their public credibility and objected to the legislation as a matter of principle.38 Russia’s Public Chamber refused to endorse it, and the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights challenged the vagueness of the term political activities. There was also evidence of dissent within the Russian establishment—particularly among the technocratic wing of the Russian ruling elite that had been promoted by Medvedev.39 The Ministry of Justice appeared hesitant to enforce the law.40 Justice minister Aleksandr Konovalov cautiously signaled his opposition, arguing in a speech to the State Duma (the lower house of the Federal Assembly) that the law did not give him the authority to register organizations against their will.41 However, the Constitutional Court upheld the law, arguing that there were no reasons to believe that the term foreign agent had negative connotations from the Soviet era.42

Once it became clear that civil society organizations would not register voluntarily, the Kremlin’s tactics shifted. Prompted directly by Putin, the prosecutor’s office in March 2013 began an unprecedented wave of NGO inspections.43 Teams of prosecutorial, judicial, and tax officials visited the offices of more than 500 groups in forty-nine regions, under the pretext of checking for “compliance with the laws of the Russian Federation.”44 Eager to gain influence within the regime, the prosecutor’s office pursued its task aggressively, casting its net far beyond the government’s typical adversaries. The inspections were often highly disruptive and seemed aimed at intimidating the targeted organizations. At times, the inspection teams included agents from the Federal Security Service who claimed to have been alerted that the organization in question was involved in “extremist” work.45

The inspections created an atmosphere of constant unpredictability. Given the vagueness of the law’s provisions, activists no longer knew which activities were in fact prohibited, whether the investigative officials’ actions complied with federal rules, and how law enforcement agencies and the courts would interpret key concepts.46 State officials themselves did not necessarily know what they were looking for or what should count as a political activity. As a result, the inspections and subsequent penalties took different forms in different regions.47 Dozens of groups received notices that they were or could be violating the foreign agents law as well as myriad other regulations, including fire codes and sanitation rules. Groups across the country went to court to challenge the fines, warnings, and notifications they received as a result of the inspections, but court hearings were frequently postponed and cases dragged on.48

At the same time, foreign-funded civil society and human rights organizations continued to be targeted by an extensive propaganda campaign in the state media, which portrayed them as national traitors and a fifth column acting on behalf of foreign powers. The NGO investigations themselves had significant propaganda value: in Moscow, representatives from the state-owned channel NTV repeatedly joined the prosecutorial teams and broadcast reports on the inspections.49 State media outlets also singled out specific organizations, such as the election-monitoring group Golos, and targeted them with undercover investigations meant to discredit their work as corrupt and harmful to Russian society.50 The regime’s aggressive rhetoric fed anti-Western sentiments among pro-government activists and movements. The offices of several international NGOs, including Transparency International and the U.S. Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law, were picketed and vandalized by pro-Kremlin youth groups, adding to the general atmosphere of intimidation.51

Intensified Enforcement

Over the past three years, the Russian government has ramped up its campaign of administrative and judicial harassment. In a significant step, the Federal Assembly amended the foreign agents law to allow the Ministry of Justice to register groups as foreign agents against their will (see Figure 1).52 This amendment, which came into effect in May 2014, triggered a new wave of investigations by the ministry and public prosecutors. For example, the Executive Office initiated mass inspections of NGOs involved in HIV prevention—even though the law formally exempts public health organizations.53 These unannounced checks typically led to administrative charges against organizations that had failed to register, followed by involuntary entry in the foreign agents registry.54

During this period of intensified enforcement, authorities applied an extremely broad definition of political activities.55 For example, in the eyes of law enforcement officials, providing information to the United Nations (UN) regarding Russia’s compliance with international treaties, disseminating public opinion data, and holding roundtables on government policies could be deemed political work.56 By June 2016, at least 108 organizations had faced administrative proceedings for failing to register voluntarily, which led to fines ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles ($1,765 to $8,828).57 Despite these intensified enforcement efforts, not a single organization that was forcibly included in the registry accepted the foreign agent designation. Instead, all affected groups vowed to continue challenging the decision in court or—if unsuccessful—to give up their formal status.58

Since mid-2015, the government’s focus has increasingly shifted toward sanctioning those groups that have already been designated foreign agents—for example, by pursuing administrative proceedings against NGOs that have refused to label their materials as required. By doing so, Russian authorities have turned the foreign agent law into a highly effective weapon of administrative attrition. Every report, website, or presentation that fails to identify its author as a foreign agent can trigger further fines—a powerful tool to deplete organizations that are already starved for funding.59 Rather than defending civil society organizations’ from executive overreach, Russian courts have generally sided with federal agencies and exercised their discretion primarily to determine the amount of the fine.60

A Widening Net of Legal Constraints

Russian authorities have also widened the net of legal constraints. First, in response to widespread complaints, the Ministry of Justice produced a more precise definition of the term political activities, supposedly to reduce the scope for arbitrary enforcement. However, far from narrowing the scope of the law, the resulting amendment defined the political activities of NGOs so broadly that they encompass almost any advocacy, public outreach, or research activity.61 A further amendment has ensured that even funding received from a domestic NGO can be considered foreign funding if the donor organization in question has previously received external support—a measure that has dramatically broadened the circle of potential foreign agents.62

Even funding received from a domestic NGO can be considered foreign funding if the donor organization in question has previously received external support.

Russian authorities also moved to restrict international donors themselves. In June 2015, a new federal law came into force that allows the prosecutor general to declare any foreign or international NGO “undesirable” if it is deemed to represent a threat to Russia’s defense, constitutional system, or national security.63 All activities of undesirable organizations on Russian territory are automatically prohibited. The vague wording of the law and the lack of required judicial review once again open the door to arbitrary or selective enforcement. After the law was passed, 156 out of 170 members of the upper house of the Federal Assembly voted to create a “patriotic stop-list” of twelve organizations believed to pose a potential threat to Russia and tasked the prosecutor general, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Justice with investigating whether they should be declared undesirable.64 Two years later, the list of undesirable groups includes seven primary U.S. funders, including the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.65

In addition, Russian lawmakers in June 2016 passed the Yarovaya law, a set of legislative amendments purportedly aimed at combating terrorism that imposed new restrictions on freedom of speech and data privacy.66 The law forces cellular and Internet providers to store all communications data for six months and help the government access encrypted messages. It also tightens restrictions on the activities of religious groups in the name of fighting extremism.67 At the moment, the Internet remains one of the few domains in which Russian citizens can voice dissenting opinions, mobilize, and forge coalitions around common causes. This new wave of restrictions indicates that the government is shifting its focus accordingly. It opens the door to selective enforcement aimed at intimidation and may therefore lead to further self-censorship.

Selective Prosecution

Rather than engaging in sweeping and systematic repression, Russian authorities have used this widening net of restrictive laws to selectively prosecute activists, dissidents, and ordinary citizens. These test cases generally have not involved the most prominent human rights defenders and organizations. Instead, they signal that every organization or individual is potentially at risk, which serves to discourage broader civic mobilization. This logic has been particularly evident in Russian authorities’ enforcement of antiprotest regulations. For example, in 2014, eight ordinary Russians arrested during the 2012 Bolotnaya protests were convicted and sentenced to two and a half to four years in prison following a highly publicized trial.68 The defendants seemed to have been picked at random from the more than 500 people briefly detained on the day of the protest. The trial thus sent a clear message: anyone participating in an unauthorized protest can face criminal prosecution.

Rather than engaging in sweeping and systematic repression, Russian authorities have used this widening net of restrictive laws to selectively prosecute activists, dissidents, and ordinary citizens.

The selective prosecution of individual activists and organizations also serves as a reminder that escalating repression remains possible. Several recent cases have caused widespread alarm among civil society activists. In 2016, Valentina Cherevatenko, chair of the human rights and peacebuilding organization Women of the Don, became the first person to face criminal (rather than administrative) charges for “maliciously evading” the 2012 foreign agents law. Cherevatenko was accused of refusing to register her organization as a foreign agent and setting up a parallel foundation to circumvent the law.69 In another threatening move, the Ministry of Justice, after a formal investigation, accused the Human Rights Center Memorial of undermining the country’s “constitutional rule”—a serious charge that could also result in criminal penalties.70 While the prosecutor’s office has yet to act on the ministry’s finding, it could press criminal charges at any point in the future. These cases, while still isolated, demonstrate that efforts to evade civil society restrictions can potentially result in serious criminal charges.71

Violent Repression and Harassment

Russian civil society actors have also faced physical violence and informal harassment by both state security forces and nonstate actors. Threats of violence and physical attacks have primarily targeted activists working on highly sensitive issues, such as electoral fraud, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights, government corruption, and human rights abuses in the North Caucasus. Investigative journalists covering the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine also face heightened pressure. Intimidation takes different forms. Security officials have arbitrarily detained, interrogated, and threatened activists. This type of harassment initially escalated following the December 2011 parliamentary elections, when police officials summoned numerous activists for interrogation or held them in administrative detention.72 In some cases, official harassment has driven activists to flee the country—as was the case with environmental campaigner Evgeniya Chirikova, who left for Estonia in fear that her children would be taken away by child services.73 In addition, civic activists face violence by unidentified assailants whose identity and ties to political authorities often remain opaque. In some cases, ultranationalist groups have been suspected of being behind the attacks, as in the case of Igor Sazhin, a human rights defender in Russia’s Komi region who was assaulted in February 2014.74 LGBTQ activists in particular have been repeatedly attacked by far-right groups. Such incidents, while isolated, contribute to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, especially since prosecutors have often been reluctant or slow to open criminal investigations.75

In the North Caucasus, the environment for human rights defenders and NGOs has long been dangerous, as local authorities and militants operate in a context of almost blanket impunity for abuses. The few human rights practitioners who provide legal aid and monitor abuses in the region face constant threats to their work. For example, in June 2015, the Grozny office of the Committee Against Torture was attacked and ransacked for the second time in the span of several months.76 In March 2016, twenty masked men attacked representatives from the human rights NGO Joint Mobile Group who were traveling with journalists from Russia, Sweden, and Norway in Ingushetia.77 Russian authorities investigated the attack as a case of “hooliganism,” even though it was the fourth such attack on the organization within fifteen months. As a result of routine violence, human rights defenders in Chechnya in particular have developed extensive risk management strategies, such as always traveling in groups and with recording equipment and never staying in one place for more than a few months.78

Creation and Co-optation of Civic Actors

As governmental restrictions on foreign-funded and foreign civil society organizations have multiplied over the past several years, the Russian government has continued to encourage a tightly regulated civic sector comprised of pro-government and/or apolitical organizations. So-called marionette organizations are not a new phenomenon within the Russian context: they represent a continuation of institutionalized civil society actors that existed in the Soviet era. Although they often portray themselves as independent, they in fact cannot and do not challenge existing power structures and instead serve to reinforce state control.79

Russian state authorities have encouraged divisions between advocacy groups on the one hand and so-called socially oriented organizations active in the areas of education, health, and social welfare on the other.80 The latter are not only celebrated in the state media, but also benefit from targeted state subsidies. In 2016, more than $112 million was allocated to civil society from the federal budget—three times as much than in 2012.81 The Kremlin began making presidential grants available in 2006 and rapidly expanded the initiative over the past several years. Between 2013 and 2015 alone, the total amount available per year increased from 2.5 billion rubles ($35 million) to 4.2 billion rubles ($59 million).82 Between 2009 and 2015, the Ministry of Economic Development also channeled funding to socially oriented civil society organizations.83 This type of support serves multiple purposes. First, supporting NGOs that provide valuable social services helps the government fill gaps in public service delivery. In some cases, state funding has also been channeled to organizations with direct financial or family ties to those in charge of the disbursement.84 On a broader level, the distinction between socially useful organizations and illegitimate foreign agents drives a wedge between civil society groups and draws those organizations that want to qualify for government funding closer to governing authorities.

The Russian government has also created and funded patriotic and pro-government organizations that serve to propagate key elements of the Kremlin’s ideology, including its conservative social agenda and anti-Western stance. In the early 2000s, the Russian government began supporting patriotic youth movements with close ties to the executive. Yet these organizations never became the powerful social force they had perhaps been intended to be.85 Following the 2011–2012 opposition protests and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, state authorities began encouraging and relying on a wider array of nationalist grassroots initiatives. Patriotic mobilization reached its peak during Russia’s initial intervention in eastern Ukraine. Yet Russian authorities quickly moved to reestablish top-down control once they perceived local activism to be spiraling out of control. They have since shifted their support back to groups that operate strictly within the limits set by the state.86 A report by the Center for Economic and Political Reform found that the Orthodox Church has been the biggest beneficiary of presidential grants given over the past several years; organizations close to the church received at least sixty-three presidential grants worth 256 million rubles ($3.6 million) between 2013 and 2015.87 Among other large recipients of government grants are pro-Kremlin youth organizations, including the Young Guard of United Russia, Rossiya Molodaya, and the Eurasian Youth Union.88


The closing of civic space in Russia represents one element of a broader process of democratic backsliding that has defined Russian politics over the past decade and a half. In the early 2000s, Putin began reversing the fragile democratic gains made after the collapse of the Soviet Union by systematically eliminating genuine political competition and further centralizing political authority in the executive branch.89 As the Kremlin gradually marginalized the political opposition, independent civil society organizations emerged as an increasing threat to state authority. Two factors accelerated the government’s efforts to renationalize civil society organizations and assert greater government control: the fear of post-Soviet color revolutions spreading to Russia in the middle to late 2000s and the desire to prevent further popular mobilization following the 2011–2012 protest movement.

Fear of Western Political Influence

A central driver of civil society restrictions in Russia has been the fear that Western democracy assistance could help incite a popular uprising against the Putin regime. Russian authorities voiced their concern about the destabilizing role of U.S.-funded NGOs as early as 2000, when the protest group Otpor! along with a host of other civic and political actors helped unseat the Slobodan Milošević regime in Serbia.90 The color revolutions in several former Soviet republics in the mid-2000s deepened the Kremlin’s suspicions of international civil society aid. The Russian government interpreted these popular uprisings in stark geopolitical terms. It considered Western support to activists in these countries to have functioned as a soft form of U.S.-led regime change aimed at preventing Russia’s reemergence as a regional and global geopolitical power.91 The 2006 NGO law and public statements delegitimizing foreign-funded organizations represented a direct response to this perceived threat. As Putin consolidated his power, he took further measures to renationalize Russian civil society—first through the 2012 foreign agents law and later through the undesirable organizations law and other related foreign funding restrictions.

Fear of Domestic Mobilization

While the color revolutions gave Russian authorities the initial impetus to extend state control over civil society, these efforts accelerated following the protest movement that emerged during the 2011–2012 election cycle. The mass protests occurred after several years of limited modernization under Medvedev, during which civil society organizations gained in strength and visibility. Although Russia’s established NGOs played a relatively marginal role in organizing or leading the protests, they represented a concrete threat to the Kremlin’s control of the political narrative.

Not surprisingly, the government’s initial response focused on limiting citizens’ right to protest. However, the rush to pass the foreign agents law immediately after Putin’s return to power betrayed Russian officials’ fear that civic groups could emerge as a potential alternative center of power. The authorities’ initial enforcement efforts targeted those organizations viewed as particularly threatening in light of the 2011–2012 protest movement. These groups included the Human Rights Center Memorial, which had documented cases of politically motivated arrests and unlawful detentions of activists; the Public Verdict Foundation, which had established a hotline for protesters who were detained arbitrarily by security forces; and Golos, a network of election-monitoring organizations.92 As Putin’s grip on power tightened, the circle of potentially threatening organizations continuously widened—from election watchdogs to environmental activists, cultural initiatives, and independent research institutions.


The Russian government’s restrictions on civil society have decreased the number of active independent NGOs and deepened divisions within the sector. Those organizations that have survived have been weakened by continuous administrative and legal harassment and funding cuts, which have reduced their overall capacity, effectiveness, and reach. Cooperation with state authorities and other public institutions has become increasingly challenging. To survive in the current political environment, independent organizations have increasingly shifted toward domestic funding sources, exploited legal loopholes, and experimented with new organizational models.

Consequences of the Crackdown

Weakened Independent Organizations

Far from affecting only human rights organizations, the closing of civic space has been felt by independent Russian organizations in a wide range of fields. As of this writing (March 2017), there are 102 active organizations on the government’s foreign agents register.93 These groups face the bulk of administrative, legal, and informal harassment. Compared to the more than 200,000 NGOs registered with the Ministry of Justice, 102 may seem like a relatively insignificant number. However, many of the targeted organizations are among the most professional, active, and well-known organizations in the country, which have set standards for the rest of the sector and played an important role in shaping national and local public debates. They include organizations working on historical remembrance, migrant services, HIV prevention, election monitoring, prisoners’ rights, public opinion research, and environmental protection (see Figure 2).

It is difficult to measure the full impact that formal and informal governmental restrictions have had on these organizations’ activities and their constituents. Yet across the board, civil society groups have had to spend more time, energy, and resources on fulfilling the state’s complex registration and reporting requirements.94 This heightened administrative burden has made it more difficult for citizens to form new organizations, as applications for registration can easily be rejected based on arbitrary grounds. Existing groups have less time to focus on substantive agendas and tasks. Unannounced and intrusive inspections disrupt NGOs’ daily activities, as investigators typically require organizations to submit detailed financial and activity reports. Organizations have also spent time and resources on challenging the foreign agent label in court. Those organizations that have nevertheless been declared foreign agents face frequent penalties, which drain their already limited budgets.95 They also have to submit quarterly financial reports and expensive annual audits, adding approximately 284 hours to their workload.96

As a result, many organizations have shifted to domestic funding sources. Yet proving that one’s organization has stopped receiving foreign funding has not necessarily been sufficient to ward off further administrative and legal challenges. In some cases, the Ministry of Justice has denied requests to be taken off the register, pointing to tenuous connections to other foreign agents as evidence of foreign funding.97 Other groups have been included in the list despite never having received external support.98 Rather than engaging in their day-to-day activities and advancing their strategic objectives, organizations have thus found themselves bogged down by administrative proceedings and legal disputes. As of November 2016, Russian authorities had initiated 235 judicial proceedings against NGOs, in addition to the ninety-eight initiated by NGOs to challenge state actions and decisions.99 In a number of cases, civil society activists have prevailed—for example, in February 2017, the Russian Supreme Court annulled a 300,000 ruble penalty imposed on Women of the Don.100 Yet these types of cases require significant organizational capacity. Smaller organizations have thus been particularly hard hit; they typically lack the resources to adjust.101 An even more pernicious effect has been the increase in self-censorship, as some foreign-funded organizations have stepped back from initiatives that could potentially be deemed political by Russian officials to preempt legal proceedings.102

Fewer Funding Sources

In addition to legal and administrative challenges, activists have had to adjust to a sharp decrease in civil society funding. The increasingly challenging legal environment—including changes to the Criminal Code’s articles on treason and espionage—has led a number of international donors to scale back their operations in Russia amid fears of prosecution or endangerment of local staff (see Figures 3 and 4).103 Others were forced to leave the country. The expulsion of USAID in 2012 hit the sector particularly hard: the agency had been one of the main providers of civil society support since the early 2000s.104 The undesirable organizations law only exacerbated these trends. In response to the law, a number of private foundations—such as the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation—chose to close their operations in Russia preemptively, in part to preserve funding that had already been allocated and also to avoid the potential reputational cost of being declared undesirable.105 Others (such as the Open Society Foundations) insisted on staying; they were promptly blacklisted.

By formally outlawing seven of the most prominent U.S. civil society funders, the government cut off key sources of support for democracy and human rights work and discouraged other donors from investing in the country. At the same time, Russian NGOs have begun rejecting foreign support to avoid the stigma of being designated a foreign agent.106 Domestic funding sources have been insufficient to fill this gap. Even though the government has made additional subsidies available, advocacy and rights organizations have received almost no state support.107 Russian companies and foundations are hesitant to fund organizations that are critical of the government; in fact, a number of NGOs lost corporate funding after being labeled foreign agents.108 As a result, they have had to scale back their activities. Smaller organizations have closed down or become inactive. Even though the total number of NGOs does not seem to be decreasing, most new organizations are not independent but instead have close ties to businesses or local political authorities.109

Reduced Cooperation With Public Officials and Institutions

One of the most pernicious consequences of the foreign agent label has been the disruption of civil society organizations’ long-standing cooperation with various Russian state agencies and public sector institutions. The law does not officially prohibit public officials from collaborating with foreign agents, yet public officials at all levels have been discouraged from doing so.110 Some regional governments sent direct guidelines demanding that local officials break all ties with organizations that have been entered in the register. In other regions, the signals from above have been more subtle, but the outcome has been the same: officials have withdrawn from or blocked previously collaborative relationships and joint projects in fear of potential negative repercussions.111

Many civil society organizations have worked closely with government agencies for years and depend on such vertical ties to effectively carry out their missions. For example, the environmental organization Bellona Murmansk collaborated with Russian nuclear authorities on the cleanup of nuclear waste and nuclear security issues. State agencies valued the group’s data collection efforts and international ties. Yet this working relationship did not protect the organization from being labeled a foreign agent, and it was forced to shut down in 2015.112 In fact, the Ministry of Justice considered the popularity of the group’s work as proof that Bellona Murmansk had influenced public opinion and was therefore involved in political activities.113 Similarly, Moscow city authorities refused to prolong their lease agreement with the migrant rights organization Civic Assistance Committee after it was labeled a foreign agent. The premises had housed an “adaptation center,” where refugee children received lessons preparing them to transition into the Russian school system. For the first time since 1996, representatives of the Federal Migration Service and other agencies also refused to take part in the organization’s seminar on migrant and refugee rights—an activity that had been at the core of the Civic Assistance Committee’s advocacy and institutional reform efforts.114 Working with law enforcement has become particularly challenging: the human rights group Public Verdict Foundation was forced to end its cooperation with law enforcement agencies after it had been added to the register.115 The NGO Women of the Don—which focuses on peacebuilding, intercommunal reconciliation, and human rights education—has experienced difficulties accessing police officials and the Inspectorate for Juvenile Affairs, despite having collaborated closely with these institutions in the past.116

Civil society activists report that public institutions such as universities, high schools, and hospitals that depend on state support have also become wary of engaging with stigmatized organizations. This makes it difficult for NGOs to access certain target groups such as students, orphans, and people with disabilities housed in government-run institutions.117 For groups like the Human Rights Center Memorial that view public education about past repression as central to their mission, reduced access to schools and other institutions represents a direct hit to their effectiveness and reach.118

More Challenging Public Outreach

The designation of foreign agent has also made it difficult for civil society organizations to reach the wider Russian public. In addition to the barriers to access described in the previous section, NGOs struggle to disseminate their research and activities through government-controlled mass media outlets. They do not have a large enough public platform to effectively counter government smear campaigns. As a result, civil society activists note that public mistrust in NGOs has increased.119 For example, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (previously the Committee Against Torture), which works to expose torture and provides legal assistance to victims of security force abuses, reports that its work has become more difficult: the foreign agent label allows authorities to dismiss the organization’s claims as illegitimate.120 An amendment currently under discussion in the Federal Assembly that would force civic groups to display bigger labels identifying themselves as foreign agents would in all likelihood reinforce this pattern of stigmatization.121

Public ambivalence about advocacy organizations is not an entirely new phenomenon in Russia, where civic groups active on public policy issues have traditionally either been mouthpieces of the state or associated with dissident political movements. Government smear campaigns against independent groups have thus tapped into preexisting suspicions of civil society motives.122 Recent public opinion surveys corroborate these dynamics. A poll conducted by the independent Levada Center (which has also been designated a foreign agent) in late 2016 found that for 57 percent of Russians the term foreign agent inspired suspicion and fear.123 Of those who reported negative associations, 45 percent noted that the term evoked designations such as “CIA agent,” “foreign spy,” and “mole.” Yet the survey also revealed widespread ignorance about the specifics of the law: 73 percent reported not knowing anything about it at all. These findings highlight the extent to which state-controlled media outlets have marginalized independent civil society groups from mainstream public discourse. In this context, civil society organizations rely heavily on the Internet to disseminate their research and activities and to coordinate collective action.124

Greater Fragmentation in the NGO Sector

The closing of civic space has also led to greater fragmentation and disunity among civil society organizations. As noted above, the Russian government has openly embraced divide-and-rule tactics by repeatedly drawing a line between foreign-funded groups and those that provide “socially useful” services, such as direct assistance to orphans, sick, and disabled citizens. This division in fact does not reflect the complexity of the sector. Many civil society groups fulfill both advocacy and service provision roles.125 Moreover, given the government’s sweeping definition of political activities, even social development and public health organizations have been classified as foreign agents.

The Russian government has openly embraced divide-and-rule tactics by repeatedly drawing a line between foreign-funded groups and those that provide “socially useful” services.

Although there is solidarity among civil society organizations, the current context has complicated cross-sectoral cooperation. Many social organizations are wary of openly cooperating with human rights groups or designated foreign agents out of fear that doing so may taint their reputation and make it more difficult to access government funding.126 For example, Transparency International Russia has reported that several potential partners abandoned planned projects out of fear of working with a blacklisted organization.127 Some socially oriented groups have blamed those engaged in political and civic activism for delegitimizing the sector as a whole. Those on the other side criticize direct service providers for not speaking out enough against government restrictions and focusing on short-term objectives at the expense of a broader enabling environment.128 The presence of government-organized NGOs and other organizations that masquerade as independent organizations but in fact have close ties to political and business elites also makes coordinated action more difficult.

Adaptation Strategies

Closure and Relocation

It is difficult to count the total number of organizations that have shut down as a consequence of civil society restrictions in Russia. Smaller organizations began disappearing in 2006, defeated by onerous reregistration and reporting requirements. In recent years, the foreign agents law and accompanying restrictive measures have led to additional closures, as organizations do not want to carry the stigma and administrative burdens associated with the label. According to Human Rights Watch, thirty-one organizations that had formally been designated foreign agents have shut down.129 These groups include the League of Women Voters in Saint Petersburg, the Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies in Saratov, the Humanist Youth Movement in Murmansk, and the Legal Expert Partnership “Soyuz.” Some NGOs have applied for voluntary liquidation in order to be removed from the foreign agents list—only to be met with significant bureaucratic hurdles and resistance by authorities.130 As a result, a number of groups have been kept in a legal limbo: they can neither effectively carry out their work, nor get liquidated and removed from the list. Instead, they are forced to retain the foreign agent status, which means raising the resources needed to fulfill the myriad associated financial and administrative requirements.131

In many cases, activists have continued their work after losing or foregoing their formal registration.

The beginning of 2016 also saw the first instances of forced liquidation by court authorities. The targets were two of Russia’s largest civil society organizations, namely the Interregional Human Rights Organization “Agora” and the Golos Foundation in Support of Democracy. Both had been key antagonists of the Kremlin for years, and both have vowed to continue their work without formal legal status.132 This is not unusual: in many cases, activists have continued their work after losing or foregoing their formal registration, as will be discussed in greater detail below.

A number of Russian organizations have decided to relocate abroad and continue their work remotely, without an official presence within Russia. This strategy has been particularly attractive for Russian affiliates of international organizations and groups that do not rely on direct contact with their constituencies. Moving activities abroad or online has proven much more difficult for organizations whose mandate depends on regular interactions with target beneficiaries and state institutions. These groups have instead tried to circumvent the foreign agent label by shifting their activities to secondary branches, registering as international organizations, or reopening the same organization under a different name and with exclusively domestic funding sources. These strategies have often proven to be temporary solutions: in several cases, state authorities rapidly initiated proceedings against these alternative entities, often on dubious legal grounds.

Alternative Funding Strategies

Those organizations that have abandoned foreign funding sources have limited domestic options: they can seek private sector funding, apply for competitive presidential grants, or turn to crowdfunding.

Private sector grants. Private sector funding for civil society organizations remains scarce, particularly for rights-focused organizations. A number of companies have set up charitable trusts, such as the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation and Vladimir Potanin Charity Foundation.133 However, most private sector actors do not want to risk their relations with state authorities by funding politically sensitive activities or groups that have been branded as foreign agents. Russian small- and medium-sized enterprises have proven more willing to help civil society groups, often by offering in-kind services and technology, participating in crowdfunding campaigns, and providing free work spaces.134 For example, civic groups that work on homelessness and LGBTQ rights at the grassroots level have successfully raised funding from local businesses. Yet the sums in question tend to be small.135 Russia’s economic crisis has further reduced corporate donations, making the NGO sector as a whole more dependent on state financing.136

Russian state funding. Several barriers prevent independent civil society groups from accessing the government’s civil society grants. First, the process is highly competitive: in 2015, only 636 out of 4,380 projects were selected.137 Second, the bidding process lacks transparency and, as noted above, favors apolitical and pro-government organizations.138 This trend has become more pronounced over the past several funding rounds. A few prominent human rights organizations have nevertheless benefited from state support. For example, in 2015, three human rights NGOs that had previously been declared foreign agents won presidential grants: a regional branch of the For Human Rights movement, the In Defense of Prisoners’ Rights foundation, and the Moscow Helsinki Group.139 However, civil society activists have characterized these awards as little more than symbolic gestures—a “honey cake offered after a brutal whip,” as one activist put it.140 Accepting state funding also poses significant risks to independent groups, as presidential grants come with difficult reporting requirements that increase government oversight over their activities. Some organizations have had to attenuate their public criticism of state policy to avoid being disqualified from future funding rounds.141

Groups that have failed to raise government or corporate funding have had to rely primarily on crowdfunding, income generation, and member donations.

Crowdfunding and income generation. Groups that have failed to raise government or corporate funding have had to rely primarily on crowdfunding, income generation, and member donations.142 Many organizations have set up crowdfunding pages to raise emergency funds to pay for court fines and legal fees. Others have raised money by organizing charity events and concerts for their supporters. A few groups have tried to develop more consistent income sources. Using a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, the Kazan Human Rights Center, for example, bought a small house that it rented out to raise funds.143 The AGORA Association set up a small online news agency, which brings in approximately $10,000 a year. While such activities have provided immediate relief, they barely cover core organizational costs and require a significant time investment.144

The anticorruption activist Alexei Navalny was among the first to use crowdfunding techniques to fund his anticorruption organization. In late 2011 and early 2012, the organizers of antiregime protests also successfully raised money online to pay for their logistical needs and equipment. Most civil society organizations have struggled to reach similarly large audiences. Smaller NGOs operating beyond the major cities still cannot rely on crowdfunding as a reliable source of income.145 These fund-raising efforts nevertheless represent a significant shift in approach for a human rights community that had for any years been heavily dependent on external funding.146

New Organizational Models

Given the hostile legal environment, there has been a considerable push among Russian activists to abandon the traditional NGO model in favor of other organizational structures that allow for greater flexibility and reduced government scrutiny. A number of organizations have transitioned to for-profit activities to subsidize their advocacy work. This model is particularly attractive to lawyers, who can provide paid legal services while continuing to engage in pro bono activities that advance human rights causes. Other NGOs have used the fact that the foreign agents law does not apply to commercial entities to their advantage: they have created subsidiary branches that they register as commercial entities, which has allowed them to continue receiving foreign grants.147

As government pressure has increased, more groups have decided to give up their official status and continue operating as unregistered or volunteer-based associations.148 For example, after the Freedom of Information Foundation was designated a foreign agent in August 2014, lawyers from the organization regrouped as Team 29 and continued pursuing their work as a nonregistered association. The group also maintains a registered entity abroad.149 Similarly, the AGORA Association formally shut down after being labeled a foreign agent, but its former employees still provide legal assistance and engage in human rights monitoring activities.150 Shifting to a nonregistered status of course brings new challenges: it inhibits cooperation with public authorities, restricts other activities such as publishing, and often makes fund-raising more difficult. For example, most foreign donors have policies that prohibit them from funding nonregistered groups. The movement toward more informal organizational structures has coincided with the emergence of citizen-led grassroots initiatives across many parts of the country. The latter tend to focus on local problems and do not necessarily have a larger political or human rights agenda.151 Yet the unexpectedly large March 2017 anticorruption protests that took place in cities across the country also indicate that the Internet continues to serve as a key mobilizing tool for younger generations of Russians—and that the latter remain invested in their country’s broader political trajectory.152

International Responses

When the Russian government first moved to restrict civil society activities, U.S. and European governments exerted high-level diplomatic pressure, securing limited tactical victories. As democratic backsliding in Russia accelerated, U.S. policymakers split into two main camps: those who believed human rights and democracy to be central to a productive working relationship with Moscow and those who argued that cooperation should proceed along issues of mutual interest in spite of Russia’s domestic political trajectory. Attempting to forge a middle road, the administration of former U.S. president Barack Obama asserted that continued engagement would be more effective at pushing for greater civic space than open confrontation. On the European side, diverging strategic and commercial interests hindered a unified approach—despite significant economic leverage. Beginning with Putin’s return to power in 2012, the United States and its European partners struggled to respond to Russia’s increasingly assertive stance. In the years that followed, foreign policy crises overshadowed Russia’s domestic politics—even as the domestic crackdown accelerated.

When the Russian government first moved to restrict civil society activities, U.S. and European governments exerted high-level diplomatic pressure, securing limited tactical victories.

High-Level Pressure Against the 2006 NGO Law

The U.S. foreign policy community reacted strongly to Putin’s first proposal for a new NGO law in 2005–2006. In November 2005, at a meeting on the sidelines of the economic summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in South Korea, former president George W. Bush discussed his concerns about the draft law with Putin.153 Then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice raised the issue directly with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, as did the U.S. ambassador in Moscow. At the time, the U.S-Russian relationship was already strained by the U.S. intervention in Iraq and Western support for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The Bush administration faced increasing domestic pressure to raise human rights concerns with its Russian counterparts. The U.S. Congress had passed a resolution denouncing the Russian NGO bill.154 Two former vice presidential candidates, Republican Jack Kemp and Democrat John Edwards, had written a public letter expressing their concern.155

Russian authorities initially signaled their responsiveness to high-level international pushback. Lavrov underscored that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had helped improve the draft bill to accommodate U.S. and European criticism. Putin himself suggested that the State Duma soften some of the law’s particularly harsh provisions.156 On December 23, 2005, the State Duma approved the NGO bill, taking into account Putin’s recommendations. However, the final version failed to address key concerns raised by a Council of Europe expert review.157 Putin signed the bill in secrecy on January 10, 2006, while hosting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously denounced the proposed legislation.158 During her visit, Merkel continued to raise the issue both publicly and privately, noting the many objections to the law and emphasizing that Germany would closely monitor its implementation. She also set herself apart from her predecessor Gerhard Schröder by meeting with representatives of independent human rights organizations. The formal announcement of the law was published in the government’s official gazette without fanfare the following week, suggesting that Putin had wanted to avoid drawing further international attention to the measure.159

Continued Engagement

Considerable uncertainty surrounded implementation of the NGO law. Russian government officials repeatedly reassured Western leaders that there would be no major drive to shut down independent NGOs and that the law would be implemented with minimum impact on civil society activities. Initial developments indeed suggested that Russian authorities were not as serious about enforcement as some activists had feared. Western governments nevertheless continued exerting pressure behind the scenes. U.S. officials used the July 2006 G8 Summit in St. Petersburg to press for the re-registration of prominent advocacy groups and urged Russian authorities to allow independent poll watchers to observe local elections—with little success.160

At the same time, the United States and its European allies struggled to define their broader relations with Russia in light of Putin’s increasing authoritarianism. Several U.S. legislators called on Bush to boycott the G8 Summit to protest the Kremlin’s clampdown on dissent.161 Within the administration, former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney was the leading voice pressing for a more confrontational approach. At a conference of regional democratic leaders in Lithuania, he asserted that the Russian government had “unfairly and improperly restricted” the rights of Russian citizens and warned that the government’s counterproductive actions “could begin to affect relations with other countries.”162

However, Bush sided with others in the administration who argued that it would be more effective to continue engaging the Russian leadership in private, particularly given the need for Russian cooperation on issues such as the Iranian nuclear crisis, energy security, and North Korea.163 While Cheney’s statements signaled a clear shift in tone in Washington, there was also a widespread sense within the Bush administration that rising oil prices had diminished U.S. leverage and that direct confrontation with Moscow would most likely backfire. White House officials pointed to Bush’s behind-the-scenes pressure concerning the NGO law as evidence that an understated approach would be more effective at advancing U.S. interests.164 However, in the two years that followed, escalating disagreements over missile defense in Europe, NATO enlargement, and Russia’s war with Georgia led to an almost complete breakdown of communications between the two countries.165

On the European side, diverging strategic interests complicated a unified approach. Given Russia’s role as a primary energy provider and trading partner, many member states remained reluctant to subordinate their energy and commercial interests to human rights concerns—despite the push for greater European assertiveness by new member states of the European Union (EU) such as Poland and Lithuania.166 Germany—Russia’s most significant European partner—had traditionally favored a nonconfrontational approach. The election of Merkel brought about a greater willingness to raise human rights issues with Russia’s leadership; she notably confronted Putin over the clampdown on pro-democracy protesters at the EU-Russia summit in May 2007.167 However, the German government’s overarching policy did not change, and as Portugal assumed the EU presidency in the second half of the year, those advocating for closer cooperation with the Kremlin regained the upper hand.168 In the absence of strategic agreement, formal policy consultations on human rights issues remained decoupled from high-level EU-Russia summits and therefore proved largely toothless.169

A U.S. Dual-Track Approach

In 2008, the elections of Obama in the United States and Medvedev in Russia brought a brief thaw in U.S.-Russia relations, which had reached a low point toward the end of Bush’s second term. Both sides expressed their commitment to forging a new pragmatic partnership centered on shared interests in Afghanistan, Iran, and other places. The creation of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission—which included a working group on civil society—heralded the beginning of enhanced bilateral cooperation. Those following the human rights situation within Russia hoped that the election of a more reform-minded Russian president would open up new opportunities for partnerships between Russian and Western civil society organizations.

Rather than making joint action on issues such as a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty conditional on human rights progress, the United States chose to collaborate with Russia on specific policy challenges while also reaching out to Russian civil society organizations.

During Obama’s first term, the United States embarked on a dual-track approach toward Russia. Rather than making joint action on issues such as a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty conditional on human rights progress, the United States chose to collaborate with Russia on specific policy challenges while also reaching out to Russian civil society organizations.170 Obama considered U.S. finger-wagging to have been ineffective in the past and emphasized the need for greater pragmatism and increased peer-to-peer interaction among Russian and U.S. citizens and NGOs.171 His July 2009 visit to Moscow epitomized the administration’s new approach:172 At his meetings with Putin and Medvedev, Obama emphasized his desire to “listen rather than lecture,” repeatedly signaling that he recognized Russia’s resentment of American scolding. At the same time, he met with opposition figures and expressed his support of freedoms of expression and assembly at a civil society summit with Russian human rights organizations, which Medvedev chose not to attend.

While collaboration on security and nuclear issues initially moved forward, progress on human rights issues stalled. Rather than fundamentally revising the Russian government’s approach to civil society, Medvedev warded off domestic and international pressure by implementing a series of largely cosmetic reforms, often in advance of high-level U.S. visits. For example, he revived the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, bringing in several opposition leaders and human rights activists, and tasked a newly announced working group on noncommercial organizations with developing amendments to the 2006 NGO law.173 The amendments, approved shortly before Obama’s first official visit to Russia, turned out to be relatively minor: they relaxed registration and reporting requirements for smaller organizations and reduced the frequency of government audits.174 The Obama administration’s dual-track approach thus attracted a fair amount of criticism, with some arguing that the United States had abandoned Russia’s democracy activists for the sake of closer strategic cooperation with the Kremlin.175

Uncertainty in the Face of Russian Assertiveness

The U.S. approach was put to the test when the Russian government began cracking down on internal dissent following the 2011–2012 protest movement and Putin’s return to the presidency. During his 2012 presidential campaign, Putin repeatedly accused the United States of funding Russian protesters—going as far as suggesting that then secretary of state Hillary Clinton had instigated unrest in the country.176 The United States remained muted in its public response, but collaboration between the two countries lost momentum. When news of the foreign agents law broke to the international community, Western governments and multilateral institutions issued statements of concern. A group of UN independent experts urged the Russian government not to adopt the legislation.177 Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs at the time, noted that she was “highly concerned” about the proposed bill and asserted that it could not be compared to “any legislation or practice existing in the EU or the U.S.”178 A representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe—of which Russia is a member—traveled to Moscow for meetings with the justice minister and prosecutor general to voice the council’s concern about the restrictive measures.179

However, in contrast to 2006, Russian leaders showed little receptiveness to international criticism and publicly denounced any such pressure. Over the course of 2011 and 2012, a series of international developments—including the U.S.-supported overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya—had led Russian authorities to view the Obama administration’s foreign policy with increasing suspicion and to question the value of continued cooperation.180 In addition, the Kremlin was reacting against a protest movement that it viewed as at least partly driven by Western assistance and as a significant domestic threat. When the U.S. Department of State voiced “deep concern” about the NGO law, it was promptly rebuked by the Kremlin for “gross interference” in Russia’s internal affairs.181

The expulsion of USAID in September 2012 highlighted the Obama administration’s uncertainty about how best to counter the Kremlin’s increasing assertiveness without triggering further escalation. Once again, the two main policy options seemed to be to either isolate Russia and, in all likelihood, trigger further antagonism or to continue frosty cooperation along shared interests. The Obama administration opted for the second approach, responding with a muted statement that was careful not to criticize Russia directly. Former state department spokesperson Victoria Nuland noted that the decision to receive U.S. assistance was “a sovereign decision that any country makes” and emphasized areas of continued U.S.-Russia cooperation.182

At the time, Obama—in the midst of his reelection campaign—faced significant domestic pressure to prove the success of his administration’s Russia policy. The Kremlin’s increasing anti-American rhetoric had reinforced the U.S. Republican Party’s view that Obama’s pragmatic approach had been profoundly misguided and that tougher action was needed.183 While Obama tried to downplay tensions with Moscow, U.S.-Russian relations continued to deteriorate—particularly after the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on several Russian officials implicated in human rights violations.184

A Divided European Approach

Despite concerns over the accelerating crackdown on dissent within Russia, the EU remained divided over its Russia policy. In contrast to the U.S.-Russian relationship, the European-Russian relationship has deep economic roots, and there is a significant group of private sector actors with high stakes in preserving close commercial ties.185 As a result, key member states were concerned that using the EU’s economic leverage to exert pressure on Russia would trigger retaliatory measures.186 At the first EU-Russia summit after Putin’s reelection, EU leaders were eager to highlight Russia’s importance as a trade partner and avoided discussions of the foreign agents law and other controversial issues.187 Instead, visa-free travel negotiations and trade continued to dominate EU-Russian negotiations, even as political relations deteriorated.

The European Parliament repeatedly urged the European Council to follow the U.S. example and impose visa restrictions and asset freezes on a select list of Russian officials involved in human rights violations—but the proposal failed to garner sufficient political support among member states.188 High representative Ashton refused to take up the issue, noting that the bloc had already voiced its concerns over human rights with Russian counterparts.189 Bilateral initiatives such as the Russian-German Petersburg Dialogues, set up by Schröder and Putin in the early 2000s, proceeded with almost no discussion of human rights concerns—despite pressure from Merkel to change the nature of the forum.190 The lack of European unity and assertiveness frustrated civil society activists in Russia and Europe, who argued that European leaders underestimated their leverage over the Russian government.

Despite European disunity over economic or political conditionality, several European governments faced increasing domestic pressure to stand up to the Russian government. For example, the German Parliament in November 2012 passed a resolution condemning Putin’s internal crackdown and demanding a tougher European stance.191 German concerns grew in early 2013 as Russian authorities launched the first wave of NGO inspections, which targeted several German political foundations and German-funded groups.192 Former foreign minister Guido Westerwelle expressed his concern about the inspections to the Russian embassy in Berlin, noting that any further measures to hinder the activities of German foundations could “inflict lasting damage on bilateral relations.”193 At a joint news conference in April 2013, Merkel publicly confronted Putin on the foreign agents law, calling the NGO raids “a disruption and an intrusion” and emphasizing that a “vibrant civil society can only exist when [. . .] individual organizations can work without fear or concern.” Her statement reflected Germany’s greater willingness to speak publicly against the Russian government. Yet it provoked little response by the Kremlin.194

A New Low Point

At the same time that Russian authorities began vigorously implementing the foreign agents law in 2013 and 2014, relations between Russia and Western governments reached a new low point. Faced with a newly assertive Russian foreign policy, U.S. and European leaders rushed to respond to a series of geopolitical crises—from the Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine to the ongoing conflict in Syria. As a result, the domestic crackdown within Russia often took a back seat at international summits and bilateral meetings.

European and U.S. public diplomacy nevertheless continued. Between 2012 and 2017, the European Parliament passed more than five resolutions condemning the Russian government’s restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, in addition to broader resolutions on EU-Russian relations.195 The U.S. Department of State continued to speak out against the expulsion of international and U.S. funders under the undesirable organizations law, and the EU spokesperson issued regular public statements whenever a prominent human rights organization was added to the foreign agents list. These measures may have offered limited protection to these organizations.196

In addition, international efforts have centered on helping embattled Russian civil society organizations survive in a hostile environment through innovative funding mechanisms, international exchanges, and support networks. The EU continues to support Russian civil society organizations through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) program and the Non-State Actors and Local Authorities in Development program. However, this type of assistance remains relatively limited and difficult for small organizations to access: in 2015, only four Russian NGOs received EIDHR funding.197 Calls by the European Parliament to increase EU aid for Russian civil society groups have to date not been taken up by the European Commission. Other international funders have shifted to remote operations for any work related to Russia. For example, the United States (together with the Swedish and Czech governments) helped set up the Prague Civil Society Center, which supports civil society development in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union by providing flexible and innovative funding and establishing networks among organizations and individual activists.198 These efforts aim to ensure that Russian civil society groups remain connected to international forums and partners and build their capacity to respond to potential future political openings.


8 Sergej Ljubownikow, Jo Crotty, and Peter W. Rodgers, “The State and Civil Society in Post-Soviet Russia: The Development of a Russian-Style Civil Society,” Progress in Development Studies 13, no. 2 (2013): 153–66.

9  Julie Hemment, “Nashi, Youth Voluntarism, and Potemkin NGOs: Making Sense of Civil Society in Post-Soviet Russia,” Slavic Review 71, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 234.

10 Alfred B. Evans Jr., “Vladimir Putin’s Monocentric Design” (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Western Social Science Association, Albuquerque, NM, April 13–16, 2005).

11 “Choking on Bureaucracy: State Curbs on Independent Civil Society Activism,” Human Rights Watch, February 19, 2008,

12 James Richter, “The Ministry of Civil Society? The Public Chambers in the Regions,” Problems of Post-Communism 56, no. 6 (November/December 2009): 7.

13 Ibid., 7.

14 Tatiana Stanovaya, “The Human Rights Council Deprived of Its Rights,” Institute of Modern Russia, July 3, 2012,

15 Geir Flikke, “Resurgent Authoritarianism: The Case of Russia’s New NGO Legislation,” Post-Soviet Affairs 32, no. 2 (2016): 105.

16 Alfred B. Evans, Jr., “The First Steps of Russia’s Public Chamber: Representation or Coordination?,” Demokratizatsiya 16, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 346.

17 Hemment, “Nashi, Youth Voluntarism, and Potemkin NGOs,” 234.

18 Katherin Machalek, “Factsheet: Russia’s NGO Laws,” in “Contending With Putin’s Russia: A Call for American Leadership,”eds. Arch Puddington et al., Freedom House, 2013.

19 Natalia Bourjaily, “Some Issues Related to Russia’s New NGO Law,” International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 8, no. 3 (May 2006).

20 Jo Crotty, Sarah Marie Hall, and Sergej Ljubownikow, “Post-Soviet Civil Society Development in the Russian Federation: The Impact of the NGO Law,” Europe-Asia Studies 66, no. 8 (2014): 1256.

21 Rebecca B. Vernon, “Closing the Door on Aid,” International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 11, no. 4 (August 2009).

22 “Choking on Bureaucracy,” Human Rights Watch.

23 Ibid.

24 “Russia: Stop Harassing Election Monitors, Release Demonstrators,” Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2011,

25 Ellen Barry, “Rally Defying Putin’s Party Draws Tens of Thousands,” New York Times, December 10, 2011,

26 Artemy Magun, “The Russian Protest Movement of 2011–2012: A New Middle-Class Populism,” Stasis 2, no. 1 (2014): 160–91.

27 “Civic Freedom Monitor: Russia,” International Center for Not-for-Profit-Law (ICNL), last updated March 28, 2017,

28 Natalya Dzhanpoladova and Claire Bigg, “Two Years On, Russian Activists Battle to Keep ‘Bolotnaya’ Case In Public Eye,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 6, 2014,; and “‘You Feel That Just Anybody Can Be Detained’—Russia’s Shrinking Space for Peaceful Protest,” Amnesty International, October 6, 2014,

29 “Civic Freedom Monitor: Russia,” ICNL.

30 Emily Sherwin, “Russian NGO Memorial to Fight ‘Foreign Agent’ Label in Russia,” Deutsche Welle, October 5, 2010,

31 “Laws of Attrition: Crackdown on Russia’s Civil Society After Putin’s Return to the Presidency,” Human Rights Watch, April 24, 2013,

32 Ibid.

33 “USAID in Russia,” U.S. Agency for International Development, last updated September 18, 2012,

34 “Russia Expels USAID Development Agency,” BBC, September 19, 2012,

35 Françoise Daucé, “The Duality of Coercion in Russia: Cracking Down on ‘Foreign Agents,’”Demokratizatsiya 23, no. 1 (2015): 64.

36 “Civic Freedom Monitor: Russia,” ICNL.

37 Charles Digges, “Russian NGOs Receiving Foreign Funding Greet New Law to Register as ‘Foreign Agents’ With Yawns,” Bellona, November 21, 2012,

38 Interview with a Russian human rights activist, November 29, 2016.

39 Brian Whitmore, “The Peculiarities of the National Hunt (for Foreign Agents),” Power Vertical (blog), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 16, 2013,

40 “Will Russia Play Tough With Its ‘Foreign Agent’ Law?,” Economist, May 28, 2013,

41 Whitmore, “The Peculiarities of The National Hunt.”

42 “Russia: Constitutional Court Upholds ‘Foreign Agents’ Law,” Human Rights Watch, April 8, 2014,

43 “Laws of Attrition,” Human Rights Watch; and Daucé, “The Duality of Coercion in Russia,” 67.

44 “Will Russia Play Tough,” Economist.

45 Ibid.

46 Daucé, “The Duality of Coercion in Russia,” 65.

47 Ibid., 67–68.

48 “Russia: A Year On, Putin’s ‘Foreign Agents Law’ Choking Freedom,” Amnesty International, November 20, 2013,

49 “Will Russia Play Tough,” Economist.

50 “Russian Propaganda Against Citizens’ Election Observers From Golos-Movement,” European Platform for Democratic Elections,

51 Charles Digges, “NGOs Vandalized and Intimidated by Pro-Kremlin Youth Groups as New Law Takes Effect,” Bellona, November 23, 2012,

52 “Russia’s Foreign Agent Law: Violating Human Rights and Attacking Civil Society,” Norwegian Helsinki Committee, August 27, 2014, 3.

53 NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law: Sustaining Civic Activism in an Adverse Setting,” Human Rights Resource Center, May 2016,

54 “Crackdown on Civil Society in Russia: A Brief Overview of How the ‘Foreign Agents’ and ‘Undesirable Organizations’ Laws Are Enforced in Russia,” Public Verdict Foundation, June 2016,, 1.

55 Ekaterina Volosomoeva, “Valentina Cherevtenko: ‘I Am Concinced That the War Will Affect Us All,’” Open Democracy, November 17, 2016,

56 Tanya Lokshina and Anna Sevortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia: Ideas for Change, Russia 2017,” Human Rights Watch and EU-Russia Civil Society Center, February 2017,, 16–17.

57 “Crackdown on Civil Society in Russia,” Public Verdict Foundation, 3.

58 Ibid., 4.

59 Ibid., 5.

60 Ibid.

61 “Russia: Sham Upgrade for ‘Foreign Agents’ Law,” Human Rights Watch, May 27, 2016,

62 NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law,” 8–9.

63 Tanya Lokshina, “Russian Civil Society Deemed ‘Undesirable,’” Human Rights Watch, May 20, 2015,

64 Aleksandr Gorbachev, “Russian Parliament Creates a ‘Patriotic Stop-List,’” Newsweek, July 7, 2015, As of April 2017, the registry includes the National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, Open Society Foundations, International Republican Institute, Media Development Investment Fund, U.S. Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law, and National Democratic Institute.

65 See “List of Foreign and International Nongovernmental Organizations Whose Activity Is Recognized as Undesirable on the Territory of the Russian Federation” [in Russian], Russian Ministry of Justice,, accessed March 1, 2017.

66 NGO Lawyers Club, “Secrecy of Communication VS ‘Yarovaya Package’ and Its Impact on Civic Engagement,” Human Rights Resource Center, November 28, 2016,

67 Ivan Nechepurenko, “Russia Moves to Tighten Counterterror Law; Rights Activists See Threat to Freedoms,” New York Times, June 24, 2016,

68 “Russia: Protesters Found Guilty in Flawed Case,” Human Rights Watch, August 18, 2014,; and Kathy Lally, “Trial of Bolotnaya 12 Seen as a Warning Against Challenging the Kremlin,” Washington Post, October 30, 2013,

69 Volosomoeva, “Valentina Cherevtenko.”

70 Tanya Lokshina, “Dispatches: Russian Government Targets Human Rights Giants,” Human Rights Watch, November 10, 2015,

71 Lokshina and Sevortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia,” 12.

72 “Russia: Harassment of Critics,” Human Rights Watch, March 1, 2012,

73 NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law,” 42.

74 “Russia: Human Rights Defender Targeted: Police Refuse to Investigate Attack,” Human Rights Watch, February 18, 2014,

75 Ibid.

76 David M. Herszenhorn, “In Chechnya, Human Rights Group’s Offices Are Vandalized,” New York Times, June 3, 2015,

77 The Joint Mobile Group comprises lawyers who travel to Chechnya for short periods of time to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses. “Russia: Brazen Assault on Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in North Caucasus Illustrates Official Failures,” Amnesty International, March 10, 2016,

78 Freek van der Vet and Laura Lyytikäinen, “Violence and Human Rights in Russia: How Human Rights Defenders Develop Their Tactics in the Face of Danger, 2005–2013,” International Journal for Human Rights 19, no 7 (2015): 986–87.

79 Ljubownikow, Crotty, and Rodgers, “The State and Civil Society in Post-Soviet Russia,” 162–63.

80 Lester M. Salamon, Vladimir B. Benevolenski, and Lev. I. Jakobson, “Penetrating the Dual Realities of Government: Nonprofit Relations in Russia,” Voluntas 26, no. 6 (December 2015): 2187.

81 Olesya Zakharova, “Vladimir Putin Loves Civil Society (As Long As He Controls It),” Foreign Policy, October 12, 2016,

82 Moscow Times, “Orthodox Church Receives Majority of Russian Government Grants,” Johnson’s Russia List, December 22, 2015,

83 Salamon, Benevolenski, and Jakobson, “Penetrating the Dual Realities of Government,” 2191.

84 Olga Gnezdilova, “Under Attack: Freedom of Association in the Russian Federation,” Article 20, February 16, 2017,

85 Alexander Baunov, “Going to the People—and Back Again: The Changing Shape of the Russian Regime,” Carnegie Moscow Center, January 2017,, 15.

86 Ibid., 29.

87 “Orthodox Church Receives Majority of Russian Government Grants,” Johnson’s Russia List.

88 Ibid.; and NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law,” 38.

89 Andrew C. Kuchins, “Russian Democracy and Civil Society: Back to the Future” (testimony prepared for U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, February 8, 2006),, 2.

90 Orysia Lutsevych, “Agents of the Russian World: Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood,” Chatham House, April 2016,

91 Richter, “The Ministry of Civil Society?,” 10.

92 Interview with a Russian human rights activist, November 29, 2011.

93 Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation,

94 Crotty, Hall, and Ljubownikow, “Post-Soviet Civil Society Development in the Russian Federation,” 1260.

95 Interview with Russian civil society expert, November 28, 2016.

96 Gnezdilova, “Under Attack.”

97 “Crackdown on Civil Society in Russia,” Public Verdict Foundation, 6.

98 Gnezdilova, “Under Attack.”

99 “The Foreign Agents Law Has Been Enforced for Four Years. The Public Verdict Foundation Summed Up the Implementation of the Law” [in Russian], Public Verdict Foundation, November 21, 2016,

100 “Supreme Court of the Russian Federation Cancels 300,000 Ruble Fine for Women of the Don” [in Russian], Public Verdict Foundation, February 27, 2017,

101 Lokshina and Sevortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia,” 13.

102 Gnezdilova, “Under Attack.”

103 Yana Rozhdestvenskaya et al., “NGO Funding at Risk as Pressure Increases,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, February 6, 2013,

104 Crotty, Hall, and Ljubownikow, “Post-Soviet Civil Society Development in the Russian Federation,” 1257.

105 “Russia Begins Blacklisting ‘Undesirable’ Organizations,” Amnesty International, July 28, 2015,

106 Gnezdilova, “Under Attack.”

107 NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law,” 37–38.

108 “Agents of the People,” Amnesty International.

109 Lokshina and Servortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia.”

110 Interview with Russian human rights activist, November 29, 2016.

111 Ibid.

112 Bellona’s St. Petersburg branch was declared a foreign agent in January 2017. Interview with expert on Russian civil society, November 30, 2016.

113 Charles Digges, “Russia’s Putin Finalizes Baffling New NGO Amendments by Signing Them Into Law,” Bellona, June 6, 2016,

114 “Russian Rights Activist: People Are Afraid to Deal With a ‘Foreign Agent,’” Civic Assistance Committee, July 21, 2016,

115 Gnezdilova, “Under Attack.”

116 Ibid.; and “Agents of the People,” Amnesty International.

117 Lokshina and Servortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia,” 13.

118 Interview with Russian human rights activist, November 29, 2016.

119 Lokshina and Servortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia,” 12.

120 Amnesty International, “Agents of the People.”

121 Charles Digges, “Poll Shows Russians Spooked by ‘Foreign Agents,’” Bellona, February 16, 2017,

122 Louise Hallman, “Building Bridges in Russian Civil Society,” Open Democracy, April 21, 2014,

123 Digges, “Poll Shows Russians Spooked by ‘Foreign Agents.’”

124 Interview with Russian human rights activist, November 29, 2016.

125 Orsya Lutsevych, ed., “Russian Civil Society Symposium: Building Bridges to the Future”(Session Report 531, Salzburg Global Seminar, April 1–4, 2014),, 10.

126 Lokshina and Servortian, “Civic Space in Eurasia,” 13.

127 Zakharova, “Vladimir Putin Loves Civil Society.”

128 Hallman, “Building Bridges in Russian Civil Society.”

129 “Russia: Government vs. Rights Groups,” Human Rights Watch, April 10, 2017,

130 NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law,” 23.

131 Ibid., 23.

132 Daria Litvinova, “Putin’s Pre-Emptive Strike: Kremlin Moves to Liquidate ‘Foreign Agents,’” Moscow Times, February 19, 2016,

133 Pavel Chikov, “Russian NGOs: The Funding Realities,” Open Democracy, February 15, 2013,

134 Lutsevych, ed., “Russian Civil Society Symposium,” 15.

135 Chikov, “Russian NGOs.”

136 Polina Filippova, “Thought Paper,” in Lutsevych, ed., “Russian Civil Society Symposium,” 32.

137 Georgi Ivanushkin, “Results of the Open Presidential NGO Grant Contest,” BEARR Trust, July 2, 2015,

138 “Report by TI-R: NGOs Receiving State Support Remain Opaque” [in Russian], Transparency International, May 25, 2015,

139 Ivanushkin, “Results of the Open Presidential NGO Grant Contest.”

140 Anna Karpova, “Pavel Chikov, the Head of the Association “Agora”: The Honey Cake Offered After a Brutal Whip” [in Russian], Snob, August 22, 2013,

141 Interview with Russian civil society expert, November 28, 2016.

142 Crotty, Hall, and Ljubownikow, “Post-Soviet Civil Society Development in the Russian Federation,” 1261.

143 Chikov, “Russian NGOs.”

144 Michael Allen, “Why Domestic Philanthropy Isn’t Enough for Russian NGOs,” Open Democracy, February 15, 2013,’t-enough-for-russian-ngos.

145 Ibid.

146 Almut Rochowanski, “Funding Russian NGOs: Opportunity in a Crisis?,” Open Democracy, February 13, 2013,

147 Lyudmila Alexandrova, “Russian NGOs Look for Loopholes to Bypass Foreign Agents Law,” TASS, June 21, 2013,

148 Interview with Russian civil society expert, November 28, 2016.

149 “Rights Group of the Week: Team 29,” Rights in Russia, December 12, 2016,

150 Interview with Russian human rights activist, November 29, 2016.

151 NGO Lawyers Club, “Russian NGOs After the Foreign Agents Law,” 54–55.

152 Roman Dobrokhotov, “Russia’s New Protest Generation,” Al Jazeera, March 29, 2017,

153 Peter Baker, “Bush to Query Putin on Kremlin Controls,” Washington Post, November 18, 2005,

154 Yevgeny Volk, “Russia’s NGO Law: An Attack on Freedom and Civil Society,” Heritage Foundation, May 24, 2006,

155 Baker, “Bush to Query Putin.”

156 Volk, “Russia’s NGO Law.”

157 “Choking on Bureaucracy,” Human Rights Watch.

158 Francesca Mereu, “Putin Quietly Signed NGO Bill Last Week,” Moscow Times, January 18, 2006,

159 Volk, “Russia’s NGO Law.”

160 Peter Baker and Peter Finn, “To Dismay of Some, Bush Takes Gentler Approach Toward Putin,” Washington Post, July 15, 2006,

161 Guy Dinmore, “Bush Urged to Give Putin the Cold Shoulder,” Financial Times, May 18, 2006,

162 Brian Whitmore, “Russia: Expect No Showdowns at G8 Summit,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 14, 2006,

163 Ibid.

164 Baker and Finn, “To Dismay of Some.”

165 Thomas Graham, U.S.-Russia Relations: Facing Reality Pragmatically (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2008), 3–4.

166 Eleanor Bindman, “The EU’s Human Rights Policy in Russia: More Than Rhetoric?,” Open Democracy, September 30, 2010,’s-human-rights-policy-in-russia-more-than-rhetoric.

167 “EU, Russia Clash Over Democracy at Volga Summit,” Deutsche Welle, May 5, 2007,

168 Nikolaus von Twickel, “EU Will Not Lecture Russia, Portugal Says,” Moscow Times, July 4, 2017,

169 Elena Klitsounova, “Promoting Human Rights in Russia by Supporting NGOs: How to Improve EU Strategies,” Center for European Policy Studies, April 2008,

170 Matthew Rojansky and James F. Collins, “A Reset for the U.S.-Russia Values Gap,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 30, 2010,

171 Samuel Charap, “Assessing the ‘Reset’ and the Next Steps for U.S. Russia Policy,” Center for American Progress, April 2010,, 16–17.

172 Peter Baker, “Obama Resets Ties to Russia, but Work Remains,” New York Times, July 7, 2009,

173 “Russia: Revise NGO Law to Protect Rights,” Human Rights Watch, May 13, 2009,; and Olga Komaritskaya, “Russian President Discussed Problems with Human Rights Activists,” Human Rights House, November 23, 2009,

174 U.S. Embassy in Moscow, “Medvedev Sends Duma Watered-Down Amendments to NGO Law With Promise of More to Come,” WikiLeaks, June 19, 2009,

175 Charap, “Assessing the ‘Reset,’” 19.

176 Max Fisher, “Russia’s Hacks Followed Years of Paranoia Toward Hillary Clinton,” New York Times, December 16, 2016,

177 “UN Human Rights Experts Warn of Potential Damage by Russia’s Draft Law,” UN News Center, July 12, 2012,

178 “Statement by the Spokesperson of High Representative Catherine Ashton on the Amendments to the Russian NGO Law,” European Union, July 10, 2012,

179 “PACE Rapporteur Slams Russian Slander Bill as ‘Invitation to Punish’ Kremlin Critics,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 15, 2102,

180 Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung, “From ‘Reset’ to ‘Pause’: The Real Story Behind Hillary Clinton’s Feud With Vladimir Putin,” Washington Post, November 3, 2016,

181 Andrey Ostroukh, “Russia’s Putin Signs NGO ‘Foreign Agents Law,’” Reuters, July 21, 2012,

182 Natasha Abbakumova and Kathy Lally, “Russia Boots Out USAID,” Washington Post, September 18, 2012,

183 Angela Stent, “U.S.-Russia Relations in the Second Obama Administration,” Brookings Institution, December 31, 2012,

184 “Russia to Retaliate Over US Magnitsky Rights Act,” BBC, December 7, 2012,

185 Stent, “U.S.-Russia Relations in the Second Obama Administration.”

186 Eleonora Tafuro, “Can the EU Help Foster Democracy in Russia?,” FRIDE, October 2013,, 2.

187 Roman Goncharenko, “EU-Russia Summit Steers Clear of Controversy,” Deutsche Welle, June 5, 2012,

188 Andrew Osborn, “Sergei Magnitsky: European Parliament Recommends Tough Sanctions on Russian Officials,” Telegraph, December 16, 2010,; and Richard Solash, “Push for Magnitsky Sanctions Intensifies in Europe,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 11, 2013,

189 “Russia and the Magnitsky Case: Europe Waits and Sees,” EuroWire, Bertelsmann Foundation, 2012,

190 Benjamin Bidder and Ralf Neukirch, “Mixed Messages From Berlin on Human Rights,” Spiegel Online, August 7, 2012,

191 Matthias Schepp, “Only Dialogue Can Ease Moscow-Berlin Tensions,” Spiegel Online, November 14, 2012,

192 Fred Weir, “Putin and Merkel Set for a Prickly Russian-German Summit?,” Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2013,

193 Gareth Jones, “Germany Warns Russia Tax ‘Raids’ on NGOs May Harm Ties,” Reuters, March 26, 2013,

194 Melissa Eddy, “Protesters and Merkel Criticize Putin, Who Wears a Smile,” New York Times, April 8, 2013,

195 See, for example, European Parliament Resolution of 13 September 2012 on the Political Use of Justice in Russia,” 2012/2789(RSP),; and European Parliament Resolution of 10 June 2015 on the State of EU-Russia Relations,

196 “European Parliament Resolution on Closing Down of Memorial (Sakharov Prize 2009) in Russia,” website of Nicola Caputo, October 20, 20124,

197 “Financial Transparency System,” European Commission, accessed April 13, 2017,

198 Carothers, “The Closing Space Challenge.”