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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Complains of U.S. Meddling

The State Duma accused the United States on Friday of using nongovernmental organizations to meddle in Russia's domestic affairs and called for a federal inquiry into whether NGOs were spending foreign grants on political activities in an election season.

Duma deputies unanimously approved a resolution expressing concern over "growing and unprecedented attempts" by the United States to interfere in internal issues.

"Under the guise of helping to conduct free and fair elections for the State Duma in December 2007 and of the president of the Russian Federation in March 2008, U.S. taxpayers' money is being used to fund numerous training courses, surveys, seminars and other events that propagandize ... and distort the situation," the resolution said.

The document came after the U.S. State Department released a report that criticized Russia's rights record and said Washington was sponsoring Russian public groups, think tanks, trade unions and resource centers. The annual report usually takes Russia to task over human rights.

The Duma resolution, which mentions the U.S. report, also accuses U.S. officials of participating in events organized by "openly extremist forces" -- an apparent reference to the attendance of several U.S. officials at a Moscow conference held by The Other Russia last year. Among The Other Russia's organizers is the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, which prosecutors call extremist.

The Duma also called on the president, the Cabinet and the Prosecutor General's Office to boost enforcement of the 2006 law that bans NGOs from participating in political activities and establishes strong bureaucratic control over their finances, particularly over foreign grants.

The Foreign Ministry and the Federation Council offered softer criticism of the U.S. report earlier in the week.

Duma First Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov told reporters after Friday's vote that U.S. actions "convince us that the course that we have chosen to develop sovereign democracy is fully justified."

Several senior Duma deputies and Federation Council senators on Friday proposed that Moscow begin sponsoring NGOs in the United States to protect civil liberties there.

The government is wary of NGO financing after NGOs with Western backing played key roles in protests that led to regime changes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.

This wariness is growing into paranoia with the approaching elections, said Tatyana Lokshina, head of Demos, a human rights watchdog.

"Such a neurotic reaction in Russia toward a routine and yearly criticism can only be explained by fears that are tormenting the Kremlin ahead of elections," she said.

Any fears are without cause, Lokshina said, pointing to the lack of a strong opposition.

She said the government's attitude was also counterproductive, because pressuring NGOs politicizes them and pushes them toward opposition groups.

In the latest possible manifestation of such a shift, leading human rights organizations called on the authorities in recent days to allow the opposition Dissenters' March to take place on Saturday. City Hall banned the march, which was organized by The Other Russia.