Free-of-charge laundry for the homeless in St. Petersburg, Russia.

© Nochlezhka

In past years, Russia’s authorities have frequently resorted to the pernicious “foreign agents” law to silence critics of the government. Now a Moscow official is trying to leverage this law against a homeless shelter.

Last week, a deputy of Moscow’s Begovoy district council sent a complaint to President Vladimir Putin’s office urging federal authorities to designate a charity that helps the homeless as a “foreign agent.” In Russia, nongovernmental organizations can be labeled “foreign agents” – a term generally interpreted as “spy” or “traitor” – if they receive any amount of foreign funding and the government deems them to engage in broadly-defined political activities.

The group, The Kip (meaning an overnight stay), has been providing food, medical care, shelter, and rehabilitation for the homeless in St. Petersburg for almost three decades. Last year, The Kip was about to expand its activities to Moscow, where the homeless number around 80,000, by opening a free-of-charge laundry. Though the group has been successfully running a similar facility in St. Petersburg for many years, a group of Moscow residents put up such a vigorous “not-in-my-neighborhood” fight that The Kip suspended its plan, particularly out of concern for the safety of the clients, activists, and landlord.

To counter the aggressive bias against the homeless in Moscow, The Kip’s team began an awareness campaign. Over 80,000 people signed their petition to the Moscow authorities, requesting they allocate a space for The Kip to create a shelter and laundromat for the homeless.

Meanwhile, The Kip hoped to set up the shelter on a non-residential site in Moscow’s Begovoi district. Many of the district’s residents they met supported the project. However, a group led by a local council deputy, Zoya Andrianova, tried to stop the shelter project. When it became clear that the district authorities wouldn’t ban it and that the shelter’s opening was slated for early 2020, Andrianova chose the tried and tested “foreign agent” designation.

In her appalling denunciation, Andrianova emphasized that The Kip enjoyed positive coverage in “liberal opposition and foreign media” and received Dutch and German funding. She then insinuated the shelter would get involved in “election meddling” in the interest of foreign powers, expressing particular concern about The Kip’s “permanent access to a socially vulnerable, dependent, and controllable constituency.”

One can only hope the authorities will pay no heed to Andrianova’s outrageous claims.