Russia’s next ‘foreign agents’ law Under new legislation, you won’t have to receive foreign money to be declared a ‘foreign agent’
Russian parliamentarians have drafted a new bill on “foreign agents.” The proposed legislation, titled “On monitoring the activities of individuals under foreign influence,” was submitted to the State Duma on April 25. RBK and Izvestia have reviewed the bill’s text.
The bill is necessary because of the “large and growing amount of attention being paid to this institution [that of “foreign agents”] by countries that are unfriendly to Russia and that want to influence our citizens and our country’s policies,” State Duma Security and Anti-Corruption Committee first Deputy Chairman and bill co-author Andrey Lugovoi told Izvestia.
Previous “foreign agent” legislation has consisted solely of amendments made to various other laws. The new bill would combine them in a single piece of legislation, Lugovoi said. RBK and Izvestia reported on what innovations the new law will contain.
People under ‘foreign influence’ can be declared ‘foreign agents’
Under the new bill, “foreign agents” can include anyone who receives financial support from abroad or is “under foreign influence of any kind” and who engages in at least one of the following activities:
- political activity
- collecting information about the Russian military and military logistics
- distributing messages and materials to an unlimited number of people or participating in the creation of these messages and materials
“Foreign influence” is defined in the new legislation as support from a foreign source (for example, foreign governments, foreign government agencies, or international organizations) or other forms of influence from that source, “including coercion and persuasion.”
Being declared a ‘foreign agent’ no longer requires receiving foreign money
As RBK noted, under the new definition of “foreign agent,” the Russian authorities will be able to add somebody to the “foreign agent” registry simply for being under “foreign influence”; the person won’t necessarily have to be receiving money or any other kind of material support from abroad, as is currently the case.
When asked by RBK how the bill’s authors propose to determine whether a person has come under foreign “coercion” or “persuasion,” Lugovoi said that this particular language will be clarified in more detail in the next version of the bill.
Relatives of ‘foreign agents’ can also be declared ‘foreign agents’
The bill includes language about “affiliated individuals” (this concept first appeared in other previous legislation about “foreign agents”; a separate registry exists for these people).
“Affiliated individuals are included in the new legislation for the sake of making the situation surrounding foreign agents more transparent. After all, it often happens that foreign agents who have received support from abroad resort to using intermediaries who, as a result, also finance political activity. We wanted to make it clear who is associated with who,” Lugovoi told Izvestia.
According to him, the bill itself doesn’t specify who can be declared an affiliate of a “foreign agent.” “It can be anyone who helps them engage in that kind of activity — including relatives,” Lugovoi said.
Commercial companies can be ‘foreign agents’
According to Izvestia, the bill expands the definition of who can be declared a “foreign agent” in Russia. As Izvestia puts it, a “foreign agent” can be:
- any Russian or foreign legal entity, regardless of its organization or legal form;
- a Russian or foreign public association acting without a legal entity, or any other association of individuals;
- any individual, regardless of citizenship.
Under current legislation, companies can already be declared “foreign agents,” but only if they are associated with some form of media (for example, the founder of a media company).
When asked by RBK whether a company like Coca-Cola could fall within the scope of the new law, Visaly Piskarev, head of the Russian State Duma’s commission on foreign interference, said that the company would first have to start engaging in political activity in Russia while relying on foreign funding.
What else is new in the bill?
- bans “foreign agents” from organizing public events; leading educational events or creating informational products for children; receiving government grants; and investing in Russian strategic enterprises.
- combines the four existing “foreign agent” registries into a single one.
- changes the label “foreign agents” are required to include on media they produce, and does not require the label be included on posts of a “personal nature.”
- allows the websites of “foreign agents” to be blocked at the Justice Ministry’s request, including when the mandatory label is not included on published materials.
- does not require government bodies or state companies, registered political parties, or religious organizations to be registered as “foreign agents.”
- introduces a uniform procedure for getting off of the “foreign agents” registry. The list of possible ways includes death, liquidation of a legal entity, and a check performed by the Justice Ministry that shows the “foreign agent” has not received foreign support for at least a year.
The bill’s authors insist that the goal of the new legislation is not to make existing legislation stricter but to make it clearer. “The law is becoming easier to understand and apply. In my view, this bill takes into account the recommendations for how to regulate “foreign agent” legislation that we’ve been receiving since the beginning of 2012,” said Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee and bill co-author Andrey Klimov.
In parliament, the bill has received support from several parties, including United Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia — For Truth. “This is a much-needed bill that elaborates and systematizes legislation about “foreign agents.” They [the foreign agents] themselves wanted more clarity, so we’re bringing it to them along with some new norms,” said Adalbi Shkhagoshev, deputy leader of United Russia’s Duma faction.