Russian authorities have just delivered another blow to independent media in the country. On July 15, the prosecutor general’s office blacklisted Project Media Inc. as an “undesirable foreign organization,” banning it in Russia and making it unlawful for anyone in Russia’s jurisdiction to be associated with it. Project Media Inc., based in the United States, is the publisher of the Russian investigative media outlet, Project, which is now effectively also banned in Russia.
Russia’s law on “undesirable foreign organizations” authorizes the prosecutor’s office to designate as “undesirable” any foreign or international organization that is deemed to undermine Russia’s security, defense, or constitutional order. The law is deliberately broad and vague.
The “undesirable” designation follows multiple bombshell reports by Project, which authorities clearly find threatening. These include allegations about Chechnya governor Ramzan Kadryov’s illicit ties with business, ties between President Vladimir Putin and a woman with extensive financial and real estate assets, and the operations of mercenary group Wagner in several countries.
Also on July 15, the Justice Ministry designated Roman Badanin, Project’s founder, and seven other journalists, – three from Project, three from US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and one from Open Media – as “foreign agents” under Russia’s foreign media agent law. The law imposes burdensome reporting rules and offensive labeling requirements.
This is not the first move against Project. On June 29, police searched the homes of Badanin and another Project colleague, and briefly detained a third. The searches were conducted immediately before Project published allegations about the family wealth of Russia’s interior minister. On the same day, Badanin was named a suspect in a criminal defamation suit related to allegations he made in 2017 about Putin’s close friend.
The targeting of Badanin is part of the authorities’ sweeping efforts to silence critics and reporters, demonize civic activism, and eviscerate political opposition. Many say this is to clear the field in advance of the September 2021 parliamentary vote, but it’s anyone’s guess how long this crackdown will last.
If allegations of corruption threaten Russia’s security, Russian authorities should do something about corruption, not those who report it. And they should abolish the repressive “foreign agents,” “foreign media agents,” and “undesirable foreign organization” laws, which serve only as tools of repression.