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by Kester Kenn Klomegah

Russia Accuses NGOs Of Fronting Spies, Money-Launderers

(IPS) MOSCOW -- The unearthing of a rock-like transmitter planted by British spies on a Moscow street can have consequences for the funding of several non-governmental organizations.

The device, used by secret agents to transmit information, was found last week soon after Russia passed a new law tightening controls over non-governmental organizations (NGOs). One reason for passing the new law was the suspicion that several NGOs are really a front for espionage.

The unearthing of the spy 'rock' raised immediate questions about several NGOs that receive British funding.

The state duma (parliament) issued a statement expressing concern over "the funding of NGOs by individuals engaged in intelligence activities on the territory of Russia, namely certain staff members of the British embassy."

The parliament said "such actions undermine trust in NGOs as a generally recognized, important institution of civil society." It spoke of the "impermissibility of using NGOs for purposes contradicting their humanitarian and socially positive nature."

A source at the Russian foreign ministry told IPS that the fate of NGOs who receive British funding would now be decided by "appropriate authorities" and that the British diplomats involved would be expelled for "activities incompatible with diplomatic status" -- standard diplomatic euphemism for espionage.

"There is concrete and justifiable evidence by the security services for their expulsion, and the new law would be enforced," the source told IPS. "We have repeatedly conveyed our concerns, and warned about the activities of non-governmental human rights and charitable organizations which are operating outside their stipulated goals and working for western countries."

The Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, has alleged that Marc Doe, a first secretary at the British embassy in Moscow who has been named as a spy, had been authorizing regular payments to 12 Russian non-governmental organizations.

Several documents signed by him were shown in a television expose of the espionage, as evidence of cash payments. The payments were made from the British Foreign Office's 'Global Opportunities Fund' to NGOs active in Moscow. They included 23,000 pounds (about $40,000) to the Moscow Helsinki Group. The group has denied any wrongdoing. The grants are legal, and a matter of public record. Leaders of non-governmental groups say they would not survive without such funding because Russians, particularly in recent years, have been reluctant to sponsor anything that might be seen as opposed to Kremlin policies. The new law on such groups, signed by President Vladimir Putin this month, will come into force Apr. 10.

Putin, who was an officer in the former KGB secret service for 18 years through the Soviet days, has made conciliatory sounds about NGOs. Foreign NGOs have nothing to fear -- if their activities match their declared goals, he said.

"We will do our best to ensure that this law does no harm to international, foreign and non-governmental organizations," he told media representatives in St. Petersburg this week. "On the contrary, Russia is interested in such organizations' work and will support them. We are not going to exacerbate the situation, and we are not going to spoil relations with our partners."

Putin said: "Of course, my attitude towards non-governmental human rights organizations has not changed. Society needs activity of this kind, so that close control over the state's activity is put in place and that the state more efficiently resolves problems in the human rights area and the humanitarian area on the whole." But he said it has now become clear to many why Russia passed the new law regulating the operations of charitable and human rights institutions.

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Albion Monitor   January 26, 2006   (

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