Putin: NGOs mustn’t meddle in Russia’s affairs

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday warned foreign-funded non-government organizations against meddling in the country’s affairs.

Putin also angrily lashed out at recent U.S. criticism of the Russian-led post-Soviet alliances.
Speaking at a meeting with top officials of the main KGB successor agency, Putin mentioned what he described as “recent nervous statements about integration processes in the former Soviet lands.”

While Putin didn’t name any names, he appeared to refer to a statement by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said in December, while still in the job, that Russian-led regional alliances represent an attempt to restore the Soviet empire.

Putin has described the existing economic and security groupings of ex-Soviet nations as precursors to a stronger Eurasian Union, which he pledged to form by 2015. He insisted the new alliance would help Russia and its neighbors boost economic efficiency and compete more successfully in global markets.

Putin said Thursday that efforts at closer economic and political integration between Russia and its neighbors “can’t be stopped by shouts or calling down.” He told officials of the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, they must be prepared to thwart foreign attempts to derail the integration plans.

“They may use various instruments of pressure, including mechanisms of the so-called ‘soft power,'” he said. “The sovereign right of Russia and its partners to build and develop its integration project must be safely protected.” Putin, who won a third presidential term in a vote last March, has taken a tough posture toward Washington, accusing the U.S. State Department of fomenting protests against his rule in order to weaken Russia.

After Putin’s inauguration in May, the Kremlin-controlled parliament quickly rubber-stamped a series of repressive laws that sharply hiked fines for taking part in unauthorized protests, extended the definition of high treason and required non-government organizations that receive foreign funding to register as “foreign agents,” a term that sounds synonymous to spies in Russian. Leading Russian NGOs have vowed to ignore the bill, which also allows an unlimited number of inspections and checks that could paralyze the activities of NGOs.

Putin on Thursday strongly defended the bill in language that reflected the Kremlin’s view of NGOs as an instrument of Western pressure.

“No one has the monopoly of speaking on behalf of the entire Russian society, let alone the structures directed and funded from abroad and thus inevitably serving foreign interests,” he said. “Any direct or indirect meddling in our internal affairs, any forms of pressure on Russia, on our allies and partners is inadmissible.”

While Putin avoided direct reference to the U.S., FSB director Alexander Bortnikov said, according to Russian news agencies, that Washington and its allies last year “raised geopolitical pressure on Russia, whom they continue to view as a major rival in the international arena.”

Putin said the FSB last year exposed 34 foreign intelligence officers and 181 of their agents. He didn’t name the countries they were spying for.