“The road from little-known Russian-American nongovernmental organization to enemy of the state is traveled quickly,” writes Masha Gessen:
First, your e-mail accounts are hacked. Second, a Kremlin-friendly tabloid publishes your internal and external correspondence. Third, a somewhat more reputable Kremlin-friendly tabloid publishes an analysis of the correspondence, concluding that your aim is to circumvent Russian law, implying that your ultimate aim is to bring down the regime. Fourth, the press secretary of the pro-Kremlin youth movement, as well as the movement’s former press secretary, alert their sizable Twitter and blog followings to your leaked correspondence.
Fifth, a politician who is known to shoot off his mouth in ways that seem spontaneous and rogue but in fact are an almost-perfect predictor of what the Kremlin will say, accuses you of being “anti-Russian.” Sixth, the mainstream media pick up on the scandal. Seventh, the state news agency puts out a seemingly objective report that says you refuse to comment on “allegations of anti-Russianness.” Eighth, we don’t yet know what happens next, but my guess is, you are ordered to cease and desist.
Gessen is recounting the fate of the U.S. Russia Foundation, a reputable NGO that supports programs on the rule of law, institution-building and economic development. The group seems set to fall victim to what activist Yuri Dzhibladze calls the Kremlin’s Cold War on civil society even though it is neither one of the foreign-funded Russian NGOs subject to increased tax scrutiny and requirements that they brand themselves as “foreign agents,” nor associated with USAID, which was summarily expelled from Russia last month.
A letter listing some of the group’s activities mentioned journalism training. “This is the limit,” wrote a pro-Kremlin blogger, using a term unsuitable for a family newspaper. “These guys are openly saying that they ‘teach journalists’ the right way to cover trials.”