Putin retreats further from reform
The Russian parliament has given preliminary approval of a bill that would restrict foreign-funded groups.
HAVING brought the media, courts and the legislative branch under his control, Russian President Vladimir Putin is grasping for the power to stamp out nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, that he considers a threat to his brand of controlled democracy. Western European nations and the Bush administration should not tolerate the increasingly dictatorial nature of Putin's Kremlin.
Putin has been disturbed by victories of freedom and democracy in the former Soviet states of Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. He has criticized Western bankrolling of private organizations that have urged democratic reforms, and a bill before the Russian legislature would severely curtail such activity.
Essentially, the bill would force 450,000 organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to register with the Ministry of Justice. It also would restrict their ability to accept donations or hire foreigners and would prohibit foreign organizations from opening branches in Russia.
The State Department spends $1 billion a year on trying to build democracy worldwide, mostly through grants to private organizations. The U.S. government provided more than $65 million to political organizations in Ukraine leading up to last year's Orange Revolution.
Russia is set next year to host the Group of Eight industrialized countries. As noted in a letter to President Bush, Democrat John Edwards and Republican Jack Kemp, former members of Congress who oversee a task force on Russian issues for the Council on Foreign Relations, that "raises an almost unthinkable prospect -- that the president of Russia might serve as chairman of the G-8 at the same time that laws come into force in his country to choke off contacts with global society."
The war in Iraq has weakened Bush's influence on such issues. Other members of G-8 need to take the lead in halting Russia's retreat from freedom and democracy.
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