09/06/2016, 08.52
RUSSIA
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Moscow includes Levada Center polling group among "foreign agents"

by Nina Achmatova

The authorities denounce foreign funding of more than 4 million euro in two years. Director of the institute: "We expected it; an act of repressive, it is the end of independent surveys in Russia." The move comes less than two weeks before the general election.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The Russian Ministry of Justice has also included the independent research institute, the Levada Center in the list of organizations deemed "foreign agents".

The Soviet style labeling, was introduced with a controversial law in 2012 to classify non-profit organizations, which deal with policy and are financed from abroad. Those on the list are regularly subject to very strict controls, so much so that some NGOs have decided to close.

The request for initiating checks on the activities and funding of the Levada had arrived from the senator and leader of the Anti-Maidan movement, Dmitri Sablin, who says he is satisfied with the authorities decision. The searches were conducted at the Levada on August 12 to 31 last, during the period when the organization also conducted a survey that revealed a large decline of the ruling party United Russia: 31%, from 39% in July . But according to those in charge of the center, there is a direct connection between the two facts.

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council (the Russian Senate), Kosachev, has announced that the Levada "received over 300 million rubles, in two years from foreign sources " (about 4.145 million euro). Many of these funds come, according to the Senator, from organizations in the United States, Great Britain, Norway, Lithuania and "other countries that have no love for Russia".

"We will reduce the number of contracts with foreign customers in the hope to remove the status," said the deputy director of Levada, Aleksei Grazhdankin.

The news comes less than two weeks before the elections for the renewal of the State Duma, planned on September 18. "The consequences of such a decision are devastating for us” the institute's director Lev Gudkov told  AFP. "This is necessary, in practice, political censorship and the impossibility of having independent surveys. It is the typical behavior of a repressive regime. "

Levada is considered the most authoritative survey institute in the country and is the first, which began to carry out opinion surveys on a national level, since 1988. Now it can no longer deal with election polls. The center is named after the Russian sociologist Yuri Levada (1930-2006). The other  polling organizations in the country are all state-controlled.

Gudkov has been waiting for such a decision, but did not hide his "anger and frustration" in his interview to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, stating  that he will be appealing against the Ministry initiative, even in the knowledge "that we have not many possibilities" . Gudkov cirticized the law on foreign agents, which so far has already hit some 140 organizations, including Memorial that deals with human rights, and Golos that monitors the election processes. Moscow has always said that the new legislation aims to protect Russia from foreign attempts to influence its internal policy, but many accuse it if aiming to silence those who denounce the poll manipulation and other abuses. "The scope of the law is so broad that it can cover everything - said Gudkov - cough in the wrong way or look in the direction of some official, anything can be considered" political activity.

Gudkov said he was convinced that behind the inclusion of Levada in the list of foreign agents is not via a direct presidential administration order. "It is a wind coming from the siloviki block (men from the security apparatus), responsible for all the repressive policy in the country. Certainly, this corrupt and mafia power group reacts very nervously to the publication of our data ", which records the public denunciation of political corruption. "When they launch their attack in the name of patriotism, evidently are covering up for what they have stolen " said Gudkov, citing the Russian satirist Saltykov-Shchedrin.

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