Under intense US and EU pressure, Russia's neo-Stalinist president Vladimir Putin appears to be backing down from proposed restrictions on pro-democracy groups:
President Vladimir Putin signaled Friday he would scrap some of the harshest provisions of a much-criticized bill that would severely restrict the work of foreign-funded non-governmental organizations in Russia.
The United States and European Union expressed concern about the draft legislation, warning that it would curtail groups that are critical to a functioning democracy. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said they might have to shut down their Russian operations if the bill becomes law.…
His announcement came two days after Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice rebuked Russia over the proposed legislation. It also was raised last week during talks in Moscow between U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and senior officials.
The Kremlin has shown increasing displeasure with nonprofit groups that criticize the government and advocate democracy. Such groups played significant roles in the mass demonstrations that brought opposition leaders to power in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Even without the new legislation, Moscow has managed to persecute NGOs it does not favor, especially religious organizations other than the Russian Orthodox Church and Chabad. The Rabbi Goldschmidt ban is only one of many such incidents. (Rabbi Goldschmidt was allowed back into Russia this week after a three-month ban. He was issued a one month temporary visa that the government can renew – or not – at will.)
Has Putin really changed his mind? Time will tell.