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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ambassador Defends British Funding for NGOs

ReutersBritish Ambassador Anthony Brenton listening to a question during an interview on Ekho Moskvy radio on Tuesday.
British Ambassador Anthony Brenton on Tuesday firmly rejected allegations that Britain had improperly funded Russian nongovernmental organizations, and insisted that Britain would continue funding NGOs in the face of a spy scandal that President Vladimir Putin has said justifies restricting them.

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio about a purported British spy ring and earlier FSB claims that a British spy had been funneling money to Russian NGOs, Brenton said such claims were "unjust."

"The United Kingdom works very hard with a wide range of NGOs on objectives that are of value both to Russia and the United Kingdom. Our activity is entirely transparent and aboveboard," Brenton said.

Brenton also cited comments made by Putin at his news conference earlier Tuesday in support of the work of NGOs.

"I completely agree with Putin's comments about NGOs restraining the government's authority, provided those organizations are openly and transparently financed," Brenton said.

"We are proud of the work we are doing" in supporting NGOs in Russia and intend to continue it, Brenton said. His comments came a day after he sent a letter to Russian NGOs that Britain has previously funded promising continued support.

In his news conference, Putin said, "Society needs NGOs as a control on the activity of the government itself and of power structures," but added that they should not be "controlled by foreign puppeteers."

Putin had previously cited the claim by the Federal Security Service, or FSB, that British diplomat and spy suspect Marc Doe had signed off on funding to Russian NGOs as justification for highly criticized legislation placing new restrictions on NGOs.

Brenton said that Doe had "connections with many nongovernmental organizations" in his capacity as a political officer specializing in human rights issues. Brenton refused to address specific spying charges.

"My prime minister has made it very clear that we never comment on allegations of espionage," Benton said. Doing so "tends to confuse the public" rather than enlighten them, he said.

Brenton added that no branch of the British government had received any official correspondence from any branch of the Russian government regarding the spying allegations.

FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko acknowledged Tuesday that the FSB had "not made not a single official accusation toward a nongovernmental organization in connection with the scandal," RIA-Novosti reported.

Brenton said he was cheered by Putin's statement earlier Tuesday that "the character and quality of our current relations are so strong and fundamental that scandals of this kind cannot knock the bottom out of our cooperation with Great Britain."

"Although the boat is rocking slightly, I'm sure we'll sail into calmer waters," Brenton said.

Meanwhile, Russian media have noted that several vocal advocates of restrictions on NGOs serve on the boards of prominent foreign NGOs.

Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov and Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Mikhail Margelov serve on the board of the New York-based Trans-Atlantic Partners Against Aids, despite their open support for restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs.

Duma Security Committee Chairman Mikhail Grishankov serves on the executive committee of the New York-based Parliamentarians for Global Action.