Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#26 - JRL 2006-242 - JRL Home
From: "Nickolai Butkevich" <nbutkevich@ucsj.com>
Subject: Washington Post letter re crackdown on foreign NGOs
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 2006

Dear David,

In case you missed it, the Washington Post printed my letter to the editor today about the crackdown on foreign NGOs, see below for the link and text.

I didn't choose the title of this letter (probably "Subtle Crackdown" would have been more accurate), but I'm OK with the rest of the editing, and I'm glad the Post allowed me to make the argument that the suspension of some foreign NGOs is part of a very old pattern in Russia. Yesterday evening I read that the government did a quickie job registering NDI and IRI and hinted it would do the same for other groups, which seems to back up my analysis. On the other hand, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and other NGOs are still suspended, so it remains to be seen how accurate my prediction that those NGOs won't be kicked out of the country will prove to be.

The reason I don't like the title is that it makes it look like I'm saying that the government's suspension of these groups is not a serious move against human rights groups and NGOs in general. I think the letter itself shows otherwise. My goal was to help the Post's readers see through the Kremlin's game of coming down hard initially and then backing off after proving who's boss, thereby establishing an atmosphere of intimidation and self-censorship. This is especially important because Putin often gets undeserved credit in some circles as a "reformer" when he steps in and moderates the impact of the "hard liners'" considerably less subtle authoritarian tactics.

Best regards,
Nickolai Butkevich


Washington Post
October 27, 2006
Soft Crackdown By the Kremlin
Regarding the Oct. 20 front-page article "Russia Halts Activities of Many Groups From Abroad":

The Russian government's suspension of several foreign nongovernmental organizations is more subtle than a typical authoritarian crackdown. Many Russian laws are cumbersome and vague, especially those that regulate political and business activities, and they often seem expressly designed to force everyone to violate the law to some degree. That way, the Kremlin can use the criminal justice system to make examples of anyone who refuses to play by its rules (such as the former head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky), while ignoring similar actions by more compliant business and political leaders.

The Kremlin's real goal is probably not to expel foreign human rights groups, a step that would irreparably tarnish Russia's international image, but to intimidate them into self-censorship. That is what President Vladimir Putin has already done to much of the media, opposition political parties and the business community. A strong reaction from Western governments is needed to ensure that he does not succeed here.

The writer is research director at the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.