By Paul Goble
Russia’s foreign agent law specified that anyone who received financial assistance from abroad could be classified as such and forced to identify publicly as having been put in that dubious category. But now Russian lawmakers are considering changing the law to allow the Putin regime to call any Russian who disagrees a foreign agent.
The new version of the draft law being considered is called “about the control of the activity of peoples under foreign influence.” Such people need not receive any money but only appear to reflect the views of foreigners, an expansion of the category to the point that anyone who disagrees can be labeled a foreign agent.
In reporting this unfortunate development, Novyye izvestiya suggests that this measure will then be deployed to “completely destroy not only the opposition but any freedom of speech in the country” (newizv.ru/article/general/26-04-2022/zakon-bezgranichnogo-primeneniya-skoro-inoagentami-budut-priznany-vse-inakomyslyaschie).
Because the draft legislation does not clearly define what it means to “fall under foreign influence,” it can and almost certainly will be used by the powers that be in the most expansive way possible and leave those who criticize the regime with little recourse in court to challenge such a label.
At present, the portal says, “tens of millions” of Russians could instantly be transformed into “foreign agents” – and “potentially everyone,” something that would spread fear among many but at the same time make such labeling criminally absurd in the eyes of many Russians and all people of good will.
To the extent that happens, this latest Putin-backed move may prove as counter-productive as so many of his others and thus have exactly the opposite impact that he intends.