23 January the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) and the “Rossia” Television Channel accused British diplomats of espionage and maintaining contacts with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), including the Eurasia Foundation and the Moscow Helsinki Group. (25-JAN-06)
The film Spies – broadcast on the state television on Sunday night – showed a British diplomat picking up a rock that was said to conceal a communications device used to exchange information covertly with Russian agents. A Russian citizen has been arrested for complicity, but the FSB spokesman, Nikolai Zakharov, declined to say when he had been taken into custody and whether he had been formally charged. Mr. Zakharov only said that a spy ring had been discovered early in the winter. But the fate of the British diplomats remains unclear.
The representative of the British Foreign Office categorically denied the accusations against the Embassy employees and said: We reject any allegations of our improper conduct in our dealings with Russian NGOs. The spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow said: “All our assistance is given openly and aims to supporting development of a healthy civil society in the Russian Federation.”
The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Ludmila Alexeeva said that she considers the film Spies to be a part of a large-scale libel campaign against human rights organizations that the state has undertaken. She added that the Moscow Helsinki Group really functions on Western money. “This will not stop our activities and we are not going to refuse aid of Western funds”. One of the groups supported by Britain and cited by officials was the Eurasia Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides many grants across the former Soviet Union. Irina Akishina, Director of the Moscow office, said that the organization received a grant in 2004 to promote independent newspapers in provincial Russian cities. She expressed bewilderment at the accusations and claimed that the Eurasia Foundation was not involved in any illegal activities. She thinks that the accusations reflect the government´s growing hostility toward private organizations that operate independently of the Kremlin.
Recently President Vladimir Putin has approved new legal restrictions on NGOs, which put such organizations under greater scrutiny. The film Spies, which was shown on the same day as the first meeting of the Public Chamber, was intended to discredit Russian noncommercial and nongovernmental organizations and to show the Russian public that the only trustworthy representatives of civil society in the Russian Federation were the members of the Public Chamber.
The Director of the Russian Research Center for Human Rights Liubov Vinogradova said that unsupported by evidence accusations of NGOs of keeping contacts with foreign secret service aim to discredit country’s human rights movement, on the whole, and to prepare public opinion to the fact that little by little human rights organizations are being excluded from the social life of the country. Another way of struggling against human rights organizations consists of perpetual check ups and objections of the registrations organs which disorganize the work of the public organizations. For instance, a month ago the Center handed in documents concerning elections of its new Director and Chairman of the Board to the Federal Registration Service. A few days ago the Center was refused to register these documents on the pretext that the procedure of the Director’s election has been violated, that is the conference adopted a resolution, which says that Chairman of the Board proposed for election the candidature of Liubov Vinogradova as a director, but according the Charter Director must be elected by “presentation of the Chairman of the Board”. One inaccurate word was enough to declare the resolution of the conference invalid. Russian Research Center for Human Rights is going to appeal against the decision of the Federal Registration Service in court.