Poll Says Nearly Half Of Russians See 'Foreign Agent' Law As Pressure Tool

Forty percent of Russians consider the country's controversial "foreign agents" law a tool for authorities to pressure nongovernmental organizations, according to new research by the Levada Center, a Moscow-based pollster.

The figure represents a 10 percent rise on last year's public skepticism of the legislation.

More than half (57 percent) of respondents said they had never heard of the law, and just 11 percent of respondents said they generally understood it.

Launched after the adoption of legislation in 2012, the "foreign agents" law has been modified and toughened repeatedly and used increasingly against independent groups ahead of elections later this year, including the Levada Center and dozens of NGOs and media outlets.

It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered and to identify themselves as "foreign agents," as well as to submit to audits.

The Levada Center poll, conducted on July 22-28 and released on August 2, says the the most critical views of the legislation are among people between 25 and 39 years of age who don't support President Vladimir Putin and prefer to get information from online news sources and social networks.

Fifty-eight percent said their attitude to a targeted NGO is unchanged by its registration as a foreign agent, while four percent said their attitude to such an NGO improves.

In general, 62 percent said they remain loyal to NGOs labeled as foreign agents.

The number of people who think the law helps oppose "negative influences of the West" fell from 48 percent in 2020 to 37 percent this year, most of them 55 years of age and older.

Such respondents prefer radio and television for information and many support President Putin and his policies, the researchers said.

The Levada Center polled 1,619 men and women across the country by phone.


The Russian State Takes Ominous Steps To Bolster 'Foreign Agents' Law

Currently, 77 organizations are listed as "foreign agents," including 16 media organizations and 18 journalists.

Modifications of the law have targeted foreign-funded media, including RFE/RL's Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time.

Russian state media monitor Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration.

The agency has prepared hundreds of complaints against RFE/RL’s services.

RFE/RL has called the fines "a state-sponsored campaign of coercion and intimidation," while the U.S. State Department has described them as "intolerable."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described the foreign agent legislation as "restrictive" and intended "to demonize independent groups."

Russia's September elections are widely seen as an important part of Putin's efforts to cement his rule before a possible 2024 presidential bid, which would be his sixth.