On 23 May 2015 President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed Federal Law No. 129-FZ “On Introduction of Amendments to certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation”. The amendments are introduced in the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Code on Administrative Violations of the Russian Federation, as well as in the Law No. 114-FZ “On Procedure of Leaving Russian Federation and Entering Russian Federation” and the Law No. 272-FZ “On Measures of Influence on the persons, participating in breaches of the fundamental human rights and freedoms, rights and freedoms of citizens of the Russian Federation”. The law has been in force since the President’s assent.

The amendments introduce the concept of “undesirability” of activity of foreign and international NGOs on the territory of Russian Federation. Activity of a foreign or international NGO, which constitutes a threat to the basis of the constitutional order of the Russian Federation, defence capacity or security of the state, will be deemed undesirable.

The amendments allow prosecutors to declare an organization “undesirable” merely after a consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russian Federation, and without court proceedings. The same procedure applies to removing organizations from the list of “undesirables”. The amendments do not contain a definition of “undesirability” so in practice it will be determined by a prosecutor in each case.

Pursuant to the new law, a declaration of “undesirability” of a foreign or international NGO would result in:

  • shutting down the existing Russian branches and prohibiting opening any new ones;
  • prohibition on banks and financial and credit organizations to have dealings with “undesirables”;
  • prohibition on production, storage and/or dissemination of any materials of the “undesirable” NGO (both hard copies and online)
  • Prohibition on implementation of any projects on the territory of the Russian Federation
  • Administrative fines for participation in the activity of the “undesirable” NGO
  • Criminal penalties for management of an “undesirable” NGO, including imprisonment up to 6 years and prohibition to take managerial/executive roles for 10 years thereafter.

The list of the NGOs, deemed undesirable in Russia, will be published on the internet.

Most of the above amendments are introduced into the Law No. 272-FZ passed in 2012 that branded NGOs as “foreign agents” on the basis of their perceived political influence and foreign funding. About 60 organizations have been officially listed in that category.

The purpose of the new law, which was passed quickly in three readings with little debate, appears to be further reducing alternative sources of information in Russia which cannot be controlled by the Russian state and thus present a potential threat to the current regime.

It must be noted that Russian law contains only a definition of "non-commercial non-governmental organisations", but no definition of "non-governmental organisations", and the new law applies to the latter. As a result, potentially any foreign or international organization, which is not owned in full or part by a government, may fall within the scope of the new law.