Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fulbright Award to Russian Who Helped Label NGOs ‘Foreign Agents’ Sparks Protest

Image from, with caption: Fulbright Program Director Joel Ericson taking the floor at the celebration of Fulbright's 40th anniversary in Russia [2013].

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – At a time when human rights activists in Russia say Moscow is stepping up its crackdown against themselves and all other Russians, the US government has awarded a Fulbright grant to one Russian who has played a very high-profile role in labelling NGOs with funding from abroad “foreign agents.”

            Larry Poltavtsev, an ethnic Russian who lives in the US and heads the Spectrum human rights organization, says that he has appealed to the State Department, the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate this case, which at the very least sends a mixed message about American policy (

            Sergey Naumov, the Russian political scientist who received the Fulbright and is now in the US, shortly before leaving his homeland testified in court as an expert witness against the Institute for the Regional Press and Civic Control, arguing that both of them qualified as “foreign agents” because in his view, “any organization” receiving money from abroad is one.

            According to Naumov, Poltavtsev says, activities ranging from analysis of legislation, comparison of Russian and foreign experience, sponsoring civic initiatives and the formation of public opinion constitutes “’political activity,’” and consequently, NGOs doing those things are engaging in politics and getting money from abroad fall within the terms of the act.

            Following Naumov’s testimony, the rights activist told Kseniya Kirillova of Novy Region-2, “both organizations were included in the list of ‘foreign agents,’ and Naumov’s conclusions became a precedent” for others. Moreover, Naumov has gone even further and argued that work with the rehabilitation of prisoners is “political.”

            Why? Because in his view, such work “’presupposes the dissemination of ‘their assessments of the decisions taken by state organs.’” In short, Naumov has an even more expansive view of existing Russian law than other Russian officials.

            Given that Naumov is in the US on tax payer money and given that the US has spoken out against the Russian law he has worked to “legitimate,” Poltavtsev’s Spectrum group argues in appeals to US officials, the Russian political scientist should be “the object of US sanctions,” especially since “he has the intention of further harming the interests of the United States.”

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