Russian State Duma lawmakers on Tuesday drafted new legislation that would expand the federal government's ability to ban foreign nongovernmental organizations accused of meddling in Russian elections.
The legislation builds on a series of Russian laws that in 2012 began targeting "undesirable" activities, mainly by foreign advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations and news media outlets. The "undesirable" designation bans them from operating inside Russia, with any violation punishable by fines and jail time.
In 2017, Russia warned nine U.S. government-funded news operations — including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven separate regional outlets — that they would probably be designated "foreign agents" under legislation drafted in retaliation against a U.S. demand that Kremlin-supported television station RT register as such in the United States.
Under Russian law, being declared a foreign agent requires designees to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.
According to Riga-based online news portal Meduza, Tuesday's expanded legislation, authored by deputies of all legislative parties, defines election meddling as any activities that "create obstacles to nominating or electing candidates or voting in referenda."
"Russian citizens who continue working for these banned groups risk criminal penalties," Meduza reported. "Currently, Russia has designated 15 undesirable organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society Foundation, the Open Russia Civic Movement and the German Marshall Fund."
Stephen Nix, Eurasia director for the Washington-headquartered International Republican Institute, said the latest legislation further restricted civil society space and open dialogue in Russia.
"IRI closed our office in Moscow a few years prior to receiving the 'undesirable' designation in 2016, so it did not directly affect our work, since we had already left the country," Nix told VOA's Russian service in a prepared statement Wednesday.
"In recent years, the Kremlin's practice of issuing these designations has severely undermined the already limited civil society space in Russia," he added. "This most recent bill is a clear attempt to deflect attention away from the Kremlin's brazen and malignant interference in elections abroad as part of its campaign to undermine democracies around the world. Now more than ever, it is crucial that democracies speak out against these practices, the chief victims of which are the Russian people."
This story originated in VOA's Russian service.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Russian legislators had passed the new legislation. In fact, they have given it only a first reading. VOA regrets the error.