Just weeks before the country’s legislative elections, Russia’s Justice Ministry has named the Levada Center, responsible for prominent and independent polling, a foreign agent.
From the Moscow Times:
Speaking to the television network Dozhd, the center’s director, Lev Gudkov, said it will be impossible for Levada to continue operating, listed as a foreign agent. In other words, Gudkov explained, the organization will likely be forced to close down, if it is unable to appeal the Justice Ministry’s decision.
In July 2016, the Pro-Kremlin “Anti-Maidan” movement appealed to officials, demanding that the Justice Ministry investigate whether the Levada Center should be designated as a “foreign agent.” The group accused Levada of receiving more than $120,000 from the U.S. government since 2012.
The polling center was blacklisted after an unscheduled inspection of its documents. While it’s impossible to say for certain why this decision was rendered at this particular point in time, Dozhd says the investigation against Levada was launched after the center reported United Russia’s falling ratings. United Russia is the party of President Vladmir Putin, among others.
Levada is in good company: Memorial, dedicated to documenting authoritarian abuses of history so as not to repeat them in the present or future; and Golos, Russia’s sole nongovernmental election-monitoring organization, were both previously added to the list of foreign agents. And the existence of the law itself is not sufficient to stop civil society in Russia. As Lyudmila Alekseyeva, former dissident and founder of the now 40-year-old Moscow Helsinki Group, told RFERL last year, “Today’s NGOs are in the same situation [as in the Soviet Union]; they might be repressed, but they will still continue working.”
But whether Levada, and with it independent pollsters, can keep working is still to be seen.