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450,000 NGOs in Russia

U.S. finances opposition

Published Feb 6, 2006 9:32 PM

A struggle is developing in Russia over legislation regulating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that is due to go into effect in April.

The new law was passed by both houses of the Russian legislature, called the Duma, and signed by President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 10. Resistance to it has opened a window on the level of Western and especially U.S. intervention in Russia today.

Under the new law, foreign organizations and groups receiving funding from outside Russia have to register with the government. Russian officials say the legislation is necessary to combat the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing from foreign governments to organizations in the country.

An original version of the law was toned down under an intense campaign of pressure from the NGOs themselves and from the U.S. government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressured Putin, expressing concern for “democracy.” The legislation was on the agenda at the recent G-8 meeting.

The law imposes restrictions on the financing, registration and activities of NGOs. This term originally meant any non-profit, voluntary, civic, humanitarian, health, human rights, service or environmental organization. Now a huge number of organizations that claim to be non-governmental, but rely on the U.S. and other major imperialist countries and on big corporations for their funds, operate in Russia and in many countries around the world. They dispense aid, set policy and intervene in political life based on the political agenda and economic interests of the funders.

The sheer number of organizations described as NGOs and the number receiving foreign funding is staggering. Since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands of NGOs have sprung up in Russia. Members of the Russian Duma say over 450,000 NGOs operate in Russia today. The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization puts the number even higher, saying that “There are at least 600,000 registered non-governmental, non-commercial organizations operating in Russia. At least as many may be working in the country without official registration.”

Duma deputy Alexei Ostrovsky, a co-author of the new law, estimates up to a quarter of Russian NGOs receive money from abroad. These include environmental groups, human rights monitors and consumer advocates.

President Putin, in supporting the legislation, said: “Whether these organizations want it or not, they become an instrument in the hands of foreign states that use them to achieve their own political objectives. This situation is unacceptable. This law is designed to prevent interference in Russia’s internal political life by foreign countries and create transparent conditions for the financing of nongovernmental organizations.”

The cross followed the gun

When the European capitalist nations first established colonies around the world, the cross followed the gun. Thousands of missionaries were an integral part of the machinery of conquest and subjugation.

Establishing a colonial administration meant reorganizing society and the ownership of property in a way that benefited the colonizers. It involved schools, training and political orientation for those among the local elite who would become collaborators. Religious conversion helped to pacify a whole section of the population, and paved the way for some to become loyal and fervent servants of the new power structure.

Today in Russia, not just religious organizations have been flooding into the region. The primary role of proselytizing capitalist values is played by “human rights” NGOs.

In response to these new restrictions, the volume of political pressure and protests from Washington has been turned up. But it is sheer hypocrisy. Regulations that are far more restrictive and intrusive monitor organizations in the U.S.

Any individual or organization here that accepts money from a foreign country must register with the U.S. government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Charitable donations are a matter of public record. Imagine Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea or Iran pumping millions of dollars into political organizations in the U.S. Even U.S. allies such as Britain, France, Germany or Japan cannot secretly fund political organizations within the U.S.

Alexei Pankin, writing in the Jan. 25 issue of the magazine Russia Profile, described his relation with two NGOs. “I ran a USAID-funded three-year program supporting Russian media, with a total budget of $10.5 million, and a Soros Foundation program supporting Russian media with an annual budget of $1.8 million. The number of supervisors, bosses, inspectors and advisers who I had to deal with (or had to deal with me) defies belief. I am sure there were intelligence officers among them.”

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), successor of the KGB, on Jan. 23 accused four British diplomats of spying. It said it had caught one of them “red-handed” channeling funds to several Russian nongovernmental organizations. London denied misconduct, saying it openly funded NGOs in Russia.

Significant foreign funding comes directly from U.S. sources, such as the quasi-governmental National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and from the European Union’s Tacis Program. Millions of dollars in funding originates with foundations that represent the interests of the wealthy elite, such as the Ford, MacArthur, Carnegie, Rockefeller and Soros organizations.

Regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan

The role of U.S.-funded NGOs in trying to impose “regime change” in Cuba, Venezuela, Chile, Nicaragua and Haiti is increasingly understood. The role of these same subversive organizations in Eastern Europe and the countries that made up the former Soviet Union is less well known, even though they operate on an even larger scale there.

Russia’s FSB security service chief, Nikolai Patrushev, recently blamed foreign-funded NGOs for fomenting coups in the post-Soviet states of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

The active and open role that foreign-funded NGOS played in the overturn of these three governments is what is setting off alarm bells in Moscow. The imperialist media fondly call these coups “velvet revolutions” and sometimes “color revolutions” for the colors chosen by the opposition forces.

Ironically, the political leaders who were overthrown—especially Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia and Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine—had in the past been the U.S.-chosen candidates. Both had carried out policies that brought their governments into the U.S. orbit. They had pushed for joining NATO’s “Partnership for Peace.” Both had agreed to send troops to Iraq.

Yet both politicians were unceremoniously thrown out when they were not totally compliant with U.S. corporate demands. Both of their replacements—Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia and Viktor Yuschchenko in Ukraine—had served in the governments of their predecessors.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after attending Yuschchenko’s inauguration as president of Ukraine on Jan 23, 2005, that he was “proud to have been associated with both events”—in Georgia and Ukraine.

Much insight into U.S. plans for the future and evaluations of past interventions can actually be found on the web sites of the foundations behind these regime changes.

40,000 NGOs in Ukraine

In an article on the World Bank’s website entitled: “Civil Society Development in Ukraine and the Orange Revolution,” Vira Nanivska, director of the International Center for Policy Studies in Ukraine, brags: “Today some 40,000 NGOs in Ukraine involve 12 percent of the population—and these organizations have been a key active force in the Orange Revolution.” (www.worldbank.org)

She describes how international consultants, policy experts and technical assistants work in coordination to change legislation, develop interest groups, set up media centers and develop protest movements. NGOs affect legislation, train civil servants, establish community councils and business associations, and push to revise the state budget in their own interests.

Young people and student organizations are drawn in through campaigns around HIV/AIDS, protection of minority rights and fighting child abandonment. The whole aim of this web of projects, she explains, is to prevent any “backsliding towards the old regime” and to push for “Euro-integration,” meaning integrating into international and European organizations like NATO and the World Bank.

The overturn of socialist ownership and the breakup of the Soviet Union is a process that did not end in 1991. Shaping the laws on property, the rights of foreign capital, justifying the expropriation and privatizing of the socially owned resources, industry and services for individual profit, dismembering social programs, shaping the media, education and culture, and undermining any assertions of sovereignty are a much longer process.

These funds have an even greater impact in a region where the centralized socialist planning that once guaranteed pensions, full employment, free health care, free education and subsidized housing is gone. Its brutal dismembering has affected millions of people, leaving them intensely angry with the leaders who betrayed them.

Funding youth movements

A significant part of the U.S. corporate funding is to create youth movements. The Soros Foundation, USAID and the NED together funded the Serbian youth group Otpor. Young people were provided specialized training and seminars in Budapest, Hungary, along with t-shirts, stickers, posters, office rent and a newspaper, as part of the successful campaign to overturn the Milosevic government in Serbia.

In Georgia, the Soros Foundation budgeted $4.6 million for the youth group Kmara, which became a primary weapon against the government. In Ukraine, Soros budgeted $7 million for the youth group Pora.

The opendemocracy.net web site is funded by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations. An article there by Sreeram Chaulia analyzes the role of U.S.-funded NGOs from Georgia to Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. The blurb for it is provocative, saying that “new forms of youthful, tech-savvy mass mobilization are impelling regime change from below. But is the phenomenon as benign as it appears? Are the movements who inspire the ‘color revolutions’ catalysts or saboteurs?”

The author is not criticizing these NGOs; he is evaluating their effectiveness in implementing “regime change.” A few of his observations give insight into how these political organizations operate as just another weapon in the U.S. arsenal.

“Sabotage can suffice in some countries while full-scale military offensives may be needed in others,” Chaulia says.

“These three revolutions—the ‘rose revolution’ in Georgia (November 2003-January 2004), the ‘orange revolution’ in Ukraine (January 2005) and the ‘tulip revolution’ in Kyrgyzstan (April 2005)—each followed a near-identical trajectory; all were spearheaded by the American democratization Ingos [international NGOs] working at the behest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. … Rarely has the U.S. promoted human rights and democracy in a region when they did not suit its grander foreign-policy objectives. … Ingos heavily dependent on U.S. finances have been found to be consciously or subconsciously extending U.S. governmental interests. …

“NED’s first president, Allen Weinstein, admitted openly that ‘a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA. … NED was conceived as a quasi-governmental foundation that funneled U.S. government funding through Ingos like the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), and Freedom House. ...

“The U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, worked closely with NGOs like Freedom House and the Soros Foundation—supplying generators, printing presses and money to keep the protests boiling until President Akayev fled. Information about where protesters should gather and what they should bring was spread through State Department-funded radio and TV stations.”

Today’s new and developing anti-war movement needs an understanding of the many forms of U.S. intervention, along with the chaos and instability that it breeds. This will build anti-imperialist awareness and strengthen the growing global demand of “U.S. out now!”