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Kerry Raises Concerns About NGOs in Russia

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Moscow Helsinki Group founding member and chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva, U.S. ambassador's residence, Moscow, May 8, 2013.
Following discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Washington is concerned about how non-governmental organizations that have received U.S. funding are being treated by the Kremlin.

The new Russian law requires organizations in Russia that receive money from abroad to register as foreign agents, a term synonymous with espionage during Soviet times.

Since the law was enacted last year, hundreds of NGOs have come under heavy scrutiny by the government and have even been raided and had legal action taken against them. Many of the NGO employees say they feel like they’re being harassed by the state.

Political and civil activist Lev Ponomaryov says the hostile situation in Russia affects society.

"We are not only talking about the liquidation of independent human rights and other movements," he said. "An unconstitutional coup is taking place in Russia, and these words are pretty serious accusations."

While Kerry says Washington is worried about the Kremlin’s crackdown on the organizations, Ponomaryov says he is not convinced the United States will do anything about the situation.

"Once again U.S. officials are using smooth language, saying, 'we sympathize with you; we are not going to abandon you; that you are at the forefront of the fight for democracy,'" said Ponomaryov, describing U.S. sentiment as "smooth talking."

"These are Russia’s domestic issues and it will be difficult for the United States or any foreign government to have much influence," he said.

Last month, a Moscow court ruled that Golos, the only independent vote-monitoring agency in Russia, pay roughly $65,000 for receiving money from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, an organization that supports people who are persecuted for their opinions. The head of Golos says it has not received any money from abroad since the NGO law was enacted last November.

The Kremlin maintains that it is merely enforcing the law.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims unprecedented protests he is facing Russia are being funded by the United States.