Russia Justice Ministry Classifies U.S.-Based Free Russia Foundation 'Undesirable'

Russia's Justice Ministry said it was classifying the Free Russia Foundation as an "undesirable” organization -- a move that could lead to the Washington-based organization being shut down within Russia.

The ministry said on June 28 that it was putting the foundation on the official registry of "undesirable" organizations, under a 2015 law that established the classification.

A ministry official, Andrei Chumakov, confirmed the inclusion to the Interfax news agency, but gave no further explanation.

Signed in 2015 by President Vladimir Putin, the law gives prosecutors the ability shut "undesirable organizations" down if they are deemed to be a threat to Russia’s national interests.

That measure followed a related law signed three years earlier requiring nongovernmental organizations that receive funding from foreign sources and engage in political activity within Russia to declare themselves as "foreign agents."

Both measures were loudly criticized by Western governments, and by many of the Russian nongovernmental groups that rely wholly or in part on financing from foreign public and private sources.

It wasn't immediately clear what effect the classification would have on the Free Russia Foundation’s operations in Russia.

In a statement , the organization defended its efforts, and said it would not be distracted by the designation.

"We are 'desirable' among those who value democracy and human rights and, for that, we know we are in good company with 15 other honorable organizations. Our focus is on the best interests of the Russian people. We are not distracted by designations from those who want Russia to remain an authoritarian country," the group said.

The organization was founded by a group of Russia expatriates and dissidents, some of whom had been forced to flee Russia.

Its chairman is David Kramer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state.

The group recently published a report detailing how Russia has spent years exploiting Western institutions and legal systems in an effort to target critics, undermine sanctions, and undo court decisions.