Putin backs state control of charities, groups


MOSCOW -- President Vladimir V. Putin defended yesterday Russia's right to scrutinize any political activity by foreign and domestic charities and nongovernmental organizations, while promising that "civil society in Russia should not suffer."

Making his first public remarks on an issue that has caused a furor at home and abroad, Putin said he would consult with parliamentary leaders on new legislation that would place all private organizations under strict state control and threaten to close others.

At the same time, he expressed strong support for a core aim of the legislation, setting up a confrontation with the United States and Europe over programs to create political pluralism and to promote democratic change in Russia.

"The continuing financing of the political activity from abroad should be, I think, in the state's field of vision," he said in remarks broadcast on state television, "especially if this financing is carried out through the state channels of other countries and these or those organizations functioning in our country and involved in the political activity are, in fact, used as a tool of the foreign policy of other states."

Putin spoke a day after the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, voted overwhelmingly to give preliminary approval to the legislation, which would force 450,000 private organizations to register under tighter rules next year.

Representatives of the organizations said the legislation would place a burden on all organizations and give the authorities new powers to shut down those considered insufficiently loyal to the Kremlin.

The draft being considered would force foreign organizations - including some of the world's most prominent human rights and environmental organizations - to close and seek to re-register as Russian organizations, with new controls on their activities.

Officials in Washington have expressed concern about the legislation but have stopped short of publicly demanding that Russia back down.

Putin, meeting with his adviser on human rights and civil society, suggested in his remarks that amendments would be considered, but he did not elaborate on what provisions of the legislation would be revised.

In 2004, the United States donated $45 million to groups in Russia that promote democracy and civil liberties, money that the U.S. State Department said was intended to address "Russia's inconsistent transition toward a democratic system." If interpreted strictly, as many here fear it would be, the legislation would prohibit Russian organizations from accepting such grants.

Some of Putin's advisers have publicly complained that the legislation goes too far. Still, it passed Wednesday by a vote of 370-18.

Ella A. Pamfilova, Putin's adviser on human rights, said he had promised to address her concerns as the legislative process proceeds. The Duma must vote two more times before sending the legislation to the upper house and then to Putin.

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