"Flaws in the legislation and lack of efficient mechanisms for state oversight create a fertile ground for conducting intelligence operations under the guise of charity and other activities," Patrushev said. He said the new law would help regulate the activities of NGOs and monitor the flow of funds from external sources.
Patrushev has said that foreign states are working to undermine Russian influence in the former Soviet republics, and had supported democratic revolutions in Ukraine and elsewhere.
He says the Federal Security Service has exposed the intelligence-gathering activities of several foreign NGOs.
"Espionage activity is increasing," Patrushev said in an interview with the government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta. He said 20 foreign agents were arrested last year, three of them caught "red-handed," and another 65 people linked to foreign spies were stopped from operating.
The Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS, or Mormons), one of the suspect groups named by officials, dismissed Lukin's claims.
The church had been registered "as a Russian entity" and was not foreign, a spokesperson told IPS by e-mail. Its membership is drawn from lower- and middle-income groups as in all countries, the spokesperson said.
The LDS, which began its missionary work in Russia in 1989, now has nearly 15,000 "saints," most of them U.S. citizens who come to Russia for a two-year period.
"Some Russian officials think our young missionaries are spies working for the American government. We are simply not. There is no relationship between our church and the American government (White House) other than the fact that our church headquarters are located in the United States," the spokesperson said.
A nationwide poll released by the state-controlled VTsIOM polling agency found that "every second Russian" was suspicious of U.S. activities in the former Soviet Union.
"We really don't want any alien democratic concepts to solve our economic problems, neither do we have to go in for foreign religious practices to improve the social standing of the people here," chairman of the Duma Committee on National Security, Vladimir Vassileyev, told IPS. "The activities of such groups rather severely hamper our smooth progress and endanger our existing democratic foundation."
The government appreciates the positive role played by some organizations in helping create civil society, but "we have to set the guiding rules so as (to) not register espionage organizations," Vassileyev said.
The United States has made similar accusations against Russia. But Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Lebedev refuted Western media reports that his service's activities in the United States and the European Union had reached Cold War levels.
"In comparison with that period, the Russian intelligence service has curtailed its presence abroad and drastically reorganized its functioning," Lebedev told Interfax news agency.
"To my regret, it has become a rule to scare ordinary citizens abroad with Russian spies who have allegedly made inroads into all of the agencies," he said. "There have been instances of local counter-intelligence services deliberately exaggerating the Russian espionage threat to show their relevancy, enhance their staff or secure more funds."
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January 16, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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