Since its appearance in Russia in 2012, the "foreign agents" legislation has been one of the main instruments of persecuting
civic activism, human rights defenders and independent media. Later versions of the law provided for a number of restrictions for “foreign agents,” ranging from a ban on participation in educational activities to a ban on organizing public events. However, until recently, Russian authorities have officially stated
that this status is only intended to ensure transparency of "foreign agents" activities and sources of their funding.
Since Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the fight against "foreign agents" has evolved as an existential confrontation. Vladimir Putin set the tone by introducing
the category of "national traitors" into public discourse, referring primarily to those who share the values of liberal democracy and calling
for the Russian society to cleanse itself from them.
Repressions of civil society have intensified over the course of the war in Ukraine. So, well-known human rights organizations such as the Moscow Helsinki Group
and the Sova Information and Analysis Center
were liquidated as well as Journalists' and Media Workers' Union
and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Memorial
had been liquidated on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As recently as the spring of 2023 the human rights activists of "Memorial" in Moscow
have been searched for politically motivated criminal cases.
Obviously, it is no longer enough for the Kremlin to simply stigmatize "foreign agents" – their very physical existence in Russia is unacceptable.
Hence, the Minister of Justice's public suggestion that "foreign agents" should be stripped of their constitutional right
to work and to be compensated for it.What are the Kremlin's goals?
It appears, however, that ordinary Russians are unlikely to stand up together against the threat of being turned into a "transhumanist chimera." What is it then that the Kremlin trying to achieve by promoting this discriminating agenda?
The answer to this question may probably be found in the most recent amendments to the law on "foreign agents," currently under consideration
in the Russian State Duma. The bill prohibits government agencies, officials, organizations, and citizens from abetting “foreign agents” in their “unlawful acts.” The Deputy Minister of Justice of Russia explained
that these amendments are planned to be applied, for example, against "channels [of information] that will show known foreign agents" and those who "will violate traditional values".
Attempts by the authorities to extend the "foreign agents" legislation to those who have not been assigned this label themselves indicate that the Kremlin is seeking to monopolize the realm of information and ideas and bar "foreign agents" from any contacts with the Russian society. Such legal constraints call for an ideological justification, which, among other things, is the declared fight against destructive influence on the Russian spiritual and moral values.
In the aftermath of the Russian aggression against Ukraine the status of “foreign agent” was imposed on dozens well-known figures who spoke out against it - popular artists
, scientists, and bloggers
with an audience of tens of millions. So far, Russian law has not provided for any bans on interaction with "foreign agents" for third parties, which enabled, for example, businesses or educational institutions to continue interacting with them. Yet, over one year into the war and no end to it in sight, the Kremlin appears to be increasingly concerned about securing control over information.
It is also possible that the rhetoric of protecting spiritual and moral values and demonization of foreign influence is used as a way to consolidate the political elite itself. Public commitment to traditionalism and condemnation of the West have become a pledge of allegiance to Putin's regime and its war against Ukraine.