Russia Intends to Exclude "Foreign Agents" from Elections

Published: 07 May 2024

Vyacheslav Volodin-Russian DumaVyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the Russian State Duma, describes the freshly proposed measures to further silent Kremlin critics, as "very humane." (Photo: Russian State Duma, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

In its latest attempt to suppress critics of the Moscow regime, Russian lawmakers passed a bill on Monday that bans individuals labeled as "foreign agents" from seeking any political office in the country.

This means that anyone working for NGOs or media organizations that receive foreign donations would be excluded from the election process.

"The State Duma has passed amendments to the law 'On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in a Referendum of Citizens of the Russian Federation,' along with several other federal laws, which now include a prohibition for foreign agents to participate in elections at any level," said Russia’s lower house in a statement.

Once confirmed by the upper house and signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the new rule would bar "foreign agents"—individuals whom the Kremlin accuses of serving the interests of Western governments—from contesting federal, state, regional, or local seats.

The new law also stipulates that the authority of State Duma deputies, senators, members of legislative assemblies, local government representatives, governors, and city mayors will be terminated if the Ministry of Justice designates them as "foreign agents."

During the discussion of the bill's text, which passed through three readings in the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Duma’s chairman, stressed that the proposed law is "very humane."

"Even today, ten individuals designated as foreign agents hold deputy positions at various levels. However, they are not immediately stripped of their powers; instead, they are granted a 180-day period to relinquish this status," said Volodin.

He clarified that those labeled as "foreign agents," allegedly receiving financial support from the West, won’t be engaging in campaigns anytime soon. However, Volodin emphasized that they do have the option to remove the label, cut ties with foreign funding, and reintegrate into the electoral process.

"We’re doing everything to protect our country. Those who receive funds from abroad and aspire to hold governmental positions should reject them and reflect on the implications of their actions," Volodin concluded.

A lawyer from OVD-Info, a Russian independent human rights watchdog listed by the Russian government as an "unregistered public association acting as a foreign agent" since September 2021, criticized the proposed bill, stating that "it is contrary to the country’s Constitution."

"People are added to the register in an arbitrary order, which means they can now be arbitrarily deprived of their passive voting rights. Moreover, the 'foreign agents' register can be exploited to prevent inconvenient candidates from participating in elections by adding them to this very list," according to OVD-Info lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina.

Russia’s Foreign Agents Law, enacted in 2012 with negative connotations reminiscent of the Soviet era, has been increasingly used by Russian authorities since the onset of the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The law has become a favored instrument for targeting government critics, civil society organizations, media outlets, independent journalists, activists, and individuals receiving foreign financing perceived to be under foreign influence.