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
#4 - JRL 2009-55 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
March 19, 2009
Kremlin Doles Out Funds to NGOs
By Nikolaus von Twickel / The Moscow Times

19 March 2009The Kremlin has named five nongovernmental organizations that will decide on the allocation of 1.2 billion rubles ($35 million) of state grants to NGOs this year.

The list, published on the Kremlin's web site Wednesday, contains relatively unknown organizations loyal to the government. They all are run by prominent members of the Public Chamber, an advisory body set up by then-President Vladimir Putin in 2005. At least two of them have links to United Russia, the country's dominant political party, which is also headed by Putin.

Critics criticized the fund distributing process as nontransparent, but Nikolai Skorovarov of the National Welfare Fund, which will hand out the lion's share of the money, said the distribution process would be fair and accountable.

"We will set up a commission and properly evaluate every application we receive," he said.

Skorovarov, an adviser to the fund's president, Alexei Molyakov, said the 500 million rubles at its disposal would go to social projects exclusively. Applications will be taken by late spring, and grant decisions should be expected by September, he said.

The National Welfare Fund was set up in 1999 on Putin's initiative during his first stint as prime minister to coordinate aid for armed forces personnel, according to the fund's web site.

Maria Slobodskaya, director of the Civil Society Issues Institute, which will distribute 160 million rubles, said priority would be given to anti-crisis projects leading to social stability.

"In hard times, NGOs can act against extremism, xenophobia and rising social tensions," she said in e-mailed comments.

Olga Kostina, whose organization Resistance has been allocated 170 million rubles, said her organization's share would go to human rights groups, especially those with projects focusing on workers' rights.

Kostina defended the Kremlin's decision to earmark less money this year than last. "It is not tragic that the sum is a little lower," she said, Interfax reported. It is logical that grants are reduced in line with cuts for government agencies, she said.

In 2008, the Kremlin allocated 1.5 billion rubles, 20 percent more than this year. The state program in support of NGOs started in 2006, when it was worth 500 million rubles, Interfax reported.

Lev Ponomaryov of the Institute of Human Rights said he had given up applying for money after receiving nothing in 2006. "This is not a transparent process, and I do not see a chance of getting any money for my organization," he told The Moscow Times.

His comments were echoed by Sergei Lukashevsky, director of the Demos Center, an independent civil liberties watchdog. "The lack of transparency irritates us very much," he said.

He explained that in the past, rights organizations that did receive money later were subject to bureaucratic difficulties because, as he put it, "the authorities did not see the money as a grant but as direct state funding."

Matthew Schaaf, NGO liaison officer at Human Rights Watch Moscow, said it was "great that the government supported NGOs," but there have been concerns about the funds' allocation in the past.

In previous years, "several prominent human rights organizations did not receive grants, and some concluded they were not eligible for political reasons," he said.

But he added that last year, some of the rights organizations did receive grants. "That is progress," he said.

Schaaf also said some of the organizations' ties to United Russia raised questions but that it was impossible to say if this had any effect on grant-making.

One of the five organizations, the "State Club - Fund for a Personnel Reserve," which has been allocated 270 million rubles, is headed by three prominent United Russia lawmakers, including Mikhail Margelov, who heads the Federation Council's International Relations Committee.

The Institute of Societal Concepts, which got 100 million rubles, is headed by Valery Fadeyev, the Kremlin-friendly editor of Expert magazine.

But Olga Drozdova, a project officer at the Agency for Social Information, a think tank devoted to the promotion of nonprofit organizations, said her organization, which is often critical of the government, won a grant for a humanitarian project in last year's round.

"There is no basis for saying the money will be allocated unfairly and inefficiently, because nobody has really looked into the matter," she said.

The Kremlin's release of NGO money comes as Russian NGOs wait for the government to publish a long-anticipated list of foreign organizations eligible to offer tax-free grants. Barring that list, many grants from abroad cannot be paid out, because they are conditioned on nontaxation.