EUROPEAN FOREIGN POLICY SCORECARD 2015

Human rights and governance

4 - Political freedom in Russia

Grade: C-
Unity 4/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 1/10
Total 7/20
Scorecard 2012: C- (6/20)
Scorecard 2013: C (8/20)
Scorecard 2014: C (8/20)

The year brought a new wave of restrictions on political freedom. The EU has no influence on the situation inside Russia, but can help organisations that leave the country. 

Information warfare is central to the Kremlin’s strategy in Ukraine. Thus, it is not surprising that 2014 brought a new wave of media censorship in Russia. In late 2013, President Putin had announced the reorganisation of RIA Novosti News agency and the Voice of Russia Radio Service into a holding called Rossiya Segodnya, headed by the country’s most prominent propagandist, Dmitry Kiselev. These changes took effect in early 2014. March saw several opposition news websites blocked and the editor of online newspaper Lenta.ru replaced, an action that resulted in a staff walkout. Lenta.ru has now reinvented itself in Latvia as Meduza Project. Russia’s only remaining independent TV channel, Dozhd, has been repeatedly harassed, with measures ranging from being denied access to cable networks to being evicted from offices.

In May, Putin signed a new internet law that stipulates that any website with more than 3,000 daily visitors is responsible for the accuracy of all information it publishes, with fines for violators of up to $142,000. Bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online. October brought a law that will limit foreign ownership of media assets to 20 percent by the beginning of 2017. This will create problems for Russia’s most prominent independent daily, Vedomosti, which is co-owned by a tri-national consortium.

The law on “foreign agents” that was first adopted in 2012 and that discriminates against organisations with foreign links was modified in May 2014, giving the Ministry of Justice authorisation to unilaterally declare organisations “foreign agents”. By early October, at least 17 rights organisations were deemed “agents”, and the list was growing. More than 50 organisations had received warnings, 20 had received notices of violation, and at least 12 were mired in court cases.

The EU lacks leverage to influence the state of political freedoms in Russia, but some countries have managed find ways to help individual organisations, providing financial support or platforms abroad. Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania deserve mention here.