The scandalous Russian law on foreign agents may be a cover for more important political decisions
The concept of a “foreign agent” appeared in Russian law three years ago. Initially, it was intended only for legal entities—the media and non-governmental organizations receiving funding from abroad.
The first victims prosecuted under this definition were the human rights organizations Memorial and Radio Svoboda. Then the Anti-Corruption Fund, created by the leader of the Russian opposition Alexei Navalny, became a foreign agent.
In November of 2019, the legal definition was expanded—now, they are proposing that any person working with these organizations or receiving money from abroad (for example, anyone who receives payment for an interview or rents an apartment to foreigners) could be declared a foreign agent (without a court order).
Any organization or person declared to be a foreign agent is obliged to add a disclaimer to any public statements they make, informing everyone: “I (we) act in the interests of a foreign state.” Those who refuse to comply with this requirement face a fine of five thousand dollars.
The law has already been passed by parliament and is awaiting the president’s signature. All well-known Russian human rights activists have asked Vladimir Putin not to sign the law.
He will, of course, comply with public demand. Because none of it holds any real significance.
Over the course of Putin’s 20-year reign, he has developed a familiar pattern of behavior.
If you are outraged by a particularly absurd piece of legislature or initiative which borders on insanity, then before you protest, you should look more carefully and make sure that it is not serving as a cover for other, more significant decisions.
It seems as if this law on foreign agents is just that.
December 8 marks one of the most important days in Putin’s long political history. On this day, he and President of Belarus Lukashenko will announce a new stage in the integration of the two countries: establishing a single, common parliament and Council of Ministers.
This is important for Russia and Belarus (as well as neighboring countries) not so much in terms of economics or politics.
It is important for Putin on a personal level. This degree of integration (even if it occurs only on paper) signifies the emergence of a new state with a different constitution.
And this in turn means that the new head of this state can run for president with a blank slate – i.e. disregarding any past terms he or she has served.
Vladimir Putin’s constitutional powers expire in 2024. And now he has found a way to extend them, virtually for life, through unification with Belarus.
In these fateful days, silence should reign in society and the media. But it’s much better if some crazy parliamentary initiative is loudly discussed, and then wisely thrown out by the president, followed by a universal sigh of relief.
And therefore, this absurd and unconstitutional law that allows anyone to be declared as “an enemy of the people” will not be signed by President Putin. At least, not this time.