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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2046

Russian NGOs under fire yet again;
Moscow expands Mediterranean presence

Edited by Ilan Berman and Ivanna Kuz
March 10, 2016

February 19: 

The Russian Federation has granted Armenia a loan of $200 million for the purchase of Russian military materiel. 
Russia Beyond The Headlines reports that the agreement, formalized between the two countries earlier in February, gives Armenia a ten-year loan of $200 million to facilitate Yerevan's acquisition of military hardware such as Smerch rocket launchers and assorted ammunition, with repayment deferred until the beginning of 2018. 

The Kremlin's campaign against NGOs deemed to be "foreign agents" continues. 
The Moscow Times reportsthat Russian authorities have evicted the Center for the Adoption and Training of Refugee Children - a nonprofit which assists the children of refugees (including from Syria, Afghanistan and assorted African nations) to adapt to life in Moscow - from its Moscow headquarters, where it has been based since the late 1990s. No reason has officially been given for the Center's ouster, but the administrative action comes after the group was declared a "foreign agent" pursuant to a 2012 law requiring all organizations receiving foreign financial assistance to register as such. 

According to Russia Beyond The Headlines, a museum dedicated to former Chinese leader Mao Zedong is set to open in the Moscow suburbs in July of this year. The museum's exhibits will reportedly include photos of Mao and the delegates of the Sixth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao's speeches, and slogans of the CCP in Chinese. The museum will be part of a larger Chinese Cultural Center, which has leased land within the Musin-Pushkin estate in Moscow's Troitsky district. 

Russia's military plans are starting to feel the financial pinch. 
Reuters reports that the Russian government is considering cutting its defense spending by 5 percent (or roughly $1.29 billion) as low world oil prices and ongoing Western sanctions continue to take a toll on the national economy. The proposal, which is backed by the country's Finance Ministry, is slated to be taken up for deliberation by President Vladimir Putin's cabinet in coming days. If approved, the measure would set a clear political precedent, marking the biggest cut in defense spending to take place during Putin's tenure. 

Russia's parliament is moving to impose further restrictions on permissible political conduct. 
According to The Moscow Times, the State Duma has introduced an amendment defining "political activity" - a term referenced in the country's current NGO law. Under the amendment, NGO operations in a number of spheres, including national defense and foreign policy, would henceforth constitute restricted political activity. 

The measure has activists crying foul. Although in theory NGOs would still be able to participate in rallies, public protests, and the like, in practice the measure would expose all of them to potential retribution from the Kremlin on political grounds. This is because "[e]very activity of NGOs can be defined as political," Mikhail Fedotov, a representative of the country's Council of Human Rights, has argued. 

February 20:

Russia is beefing up its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. 
RT reports that Russian corvettes equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles will soon be permanently deployed in the Mediterranean. The ships will operate on a rotational basis and engage in combat duty relating to Russia's current military intervention in Syria.

Related Categories: Russia; Russia and Eurasia Program; Ukraine

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