- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2015

Two pro-democracy foundations launched by U.S. billionaire businessman George Soros have been officially banned by the Russian government, the Kremlin said Monday, which said the groups pose a threat to Russian national security and public order.

The decision by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, which follows a crackdown on other foreign non-governmental organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House, puts the Moscow branches of Mr. Soros’ Open Society Institute and an allied foundation on a so-called “stop list” of foreign NGOs that are longer allowed to operate within Russia’s borders or give money to Russian individuals and civil society organizations.

Maria Gridneva, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, said the actions of the group “are endangering Russia’s constitutional system and national security,” local media reported.

The Hungarian-born Mr. Soros, who made billions as a successful hedge fund trader, has long been a figure of controversy in the United States, lavishly funding pet liberal causes and candidates over the past decade. But he has also used much of his fortune to finance causes and organizations around the world, from anti-apartheid groups in South Africa to micro-banking loans in Pakistan to pro-market democracy groups in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Since its founding in 1993, the Open Society Institute has spent nearly $12 billion, including $1.6 billion on democratic development in eastern Europe and in former Soviet countries. On its website, the organization says it has helped finance a network of Internet centers distributed across 33 universities within Russia, among other endeavors.



The Soros Foundation, which operates in some 30 countries, has been closed in Russia since 2003, but was allowed to continue to supply grants to civil society groups.

The future of Mr. Soros‘ operations has been up in the air since July, when lawmakers in the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, overwhelmingly voted in favor of creating a “patriotic stop-list” targeting foreign-funded organizations said to pose potential threats to the Russian way of life.

Supporters of the move said it was necessary to prevent foreign money from being funneled into the country to distort the political process. But critics charge the move was in line with President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to curb free speech and civil liberties as power is increasingly centered in the Kremlin.

The Open Society was among the dozen entities cited at the time, and soon after the Federation Council urged the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice to consider whether any of the groups on the stop-list could be declared “undesirable organizations” and ergo banned from operating within Russia.

In accordance with a law signed in May by Mr. Putin, foreign and international groups deemed to be “undesirable” or “threatening to the basic constitutional order of the Russian Federation, its defense capability or its state security” can be banned from conducting business in Russia. Following Monday’s decision, the New York City-based OSF is officially forbidden from holding public events and distributing promotional material to the media, and individuals caught circumventing that ban can be sentenced to up to 6 years in prison.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a human rights activist and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told the Russia Beyond the Headlines website that she thought banning OSF was an unfair decision on the part of the Kremlin.

Soros has done a lot of good to our county. He has not only financed independent public organizations, but also given a lot of money to universities and libraries. In the difficult 1990s, when there was no money for anything, he founded pensions for scientists. He financed scientific institutes,” she said.

Meghan Bartlett contributed to this report.

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