Wall Street Journal Criticizes Putin’s “Assault on Russian Civil Liberties”

The Closing of the Russian Mind
The Wall Street Journal
By the Editorial Board

Russia’s Federation Council, the upper chamber of President Vladimir Putin’s rubber-stamp Parliament, on Wednesday directed the government to investigate 12 foreign civil-society organizations to determine whether they should be added to the country’s “patriotic stop list.” Call this the latest chapter in the closing of the Russian mind.

The Kremlin created the stop list in May under a new law banning foreign organizations deemed “undesirable.” The first set of allegedly undesirable foreign groups includes several American organizations, including Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, the MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

All of this may seem like an outburst of anti-Americanism, but the real target is dissent at home. Domestic activists who receive funding from undesirable groups could face $10,000 fines and up to six years in prison. Two domestic civil-society organizations—the Dynasty Foundation, which funds Russian scientists, and the Committee to Prevent Torture—closed their doors this week after the Kremlin accused them of acting as “foreign agents” under a separate provision.

As for the popularity of these moves, honest views can be hard to come by in an increasingly repressive environment. But migration data suggest Russians are voting with their feet. From January to August 2014, some 204,000 Russians emigrated, according to official figures, up 40% from the same period in 2013. Meantime, capital outflows of $151 billion hit a record in 2014, three times higher than the previous year.

These columns have been warning about Mr. Putin’s authoritarian habits for as long as he’s been in power, and it’s nice to see some of our liberal friends belatedly coming around to our view. But the instinct to appease Moscow remains powerful, particularly in Europe where Russian money, energy and propaganda talk. The latest assault on Russian civil liberties won’t be the last one, but it is a fresh reminder of Mr. Putin’s authoritarian threat to democratic world order.

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