Russia's Justice Ministry has designated the country's only independent national polling agency a "foreign agent."
The Levada Center was added to the list of non-governmental organizations deemed to be functioning as "foreign agents" following an unscheduled check of the polling group's documents, the ministry said Monday.
Russian authorities have used a 2012 law on "foreign agents" to blacklist groups receiving international funding and engaging in activities deemed political.
The state news agency Tass quoted Levada Center director Lev Gudkov as saying the group has received financing from abroad, including from a university in the United States, but only for non-political projects.
Gudkov said the Levada Center will appeal the Justice Ministry's decision. However, he told privately owned TV Rain that were an appeal unsuccessful, the polling agency would have to cease its work, because the "stigma" of being designated a foreign agent would make conducting public opinion surveys "simply impossible."
Gudkov told TV Rain he does not link the Justice Ministry's action with the fact that Russia will hold parliamentary actions September 18. Still, he added that the inspection of the Levada Center's documents came after it conducted a poll showing that support for the ruling United Russia party has dropped.
The ministry used the results of that poll as an "excuse or a pretext" for its decision, he said.
Gudkov told the Gazeta.ru website there is a politically motivated push in Russia for "the destruction of independent sociology." He said "this means the introduction of political censorship."