Foreign agents in Russia: general questions
Q:
Who can become a foreign agent (FA)?
A:
The following entities can be recognized as FAs:

  1. a Russian NCO (legal entity), if it:
or

  • distributes printed, audio, audio-visual and other messages and materials intended for an unlimited number of persons (including those published on the internet);
or

  • participates in the creation of the above-mentioned messages and materials;
and



2. a UPA, which does not have the status of a legal entity, if it:

and



  1. an individual, if he/she:
or

  • engages in targeted collection of information in the field of military and military-technological activities of the RF, which, upon receipt by a foreign source may be used to jeopardize security of the RF;
or

  • distributes printed, audio, visual, and other messages and materials designed for the general public (including those published on the internet);
or

  • is involved in creating the above-mentioned materials;
and

  • receives money, property, or organizational and methodological assistance from a foreign source.
Q:
What are "foreign sources" for the purpose of being recognized as an FA?
A:
Foreign sources may include:

  • foreign countries;
  • foreign government agencies;
  • international organizations (for example, the UN or OSCE) and foreign organizations (non-profit non-governmental organizations registered as legal entities in other states);
  • foreign citizens; and
  • stateless persons.


Russian citizens or legal entities will be considered a foreign source if:

  • citizens of the RF or Russian legal entities receive money and /or other property from the foreign sources as specified in paragraph (A) above;
  • citizens of the RF or Russian legal entities authorized to represent the interests of foreign citizens, stateless persons, international and foreign organizations or other foreign sources (see A above) (for example, by the virtue of power of attorney or by contract of assignment); and
  • citizens of the RF or Russian legal entities acting as intermediaries in obtaining such funds and /or other property (with the exception of open joint-stock companies with state participation and their subsidiaries).
Q:
What is meant by "receipt of funds and (or) other property"?
A:
  • In Russian legislation, "property" means money, securities, and other assets, including property rights (for example, copyrights).
  • Transfer of property can be either gratuitous (for example, a free donation), or reimbursable (for example, a purchased item or service rendered under an agreement).
  • In this case, payments can be made in cash or in-kind. All payments must be made in accordance with the law, but the form of payment does not affect the determination of "receipt of funds and (or) other property." This circumstance should be deemed one of the main risk factors in determining whether an NCO is performing FA functions.
Q:
What is the "political activity" that can result in being recognized as an FA?
A:
In general, political activity is "activity in the sphere of state structure and development of the political system (state-building, protection of the foundations of the constitutional system of the RF, the federal structure of the RF, etc.), socio-economic and national development of the RF, legislative regulation of human and civil rights and freedoms for the purpose of influencing the development and implementation of state policy, decisions and actions of government agencies and local self-government bodies."

This activity can be carried out, for example, if an NCO participates in:

  • organizing and holding public events in the form of meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches or pickets, or in various combinations of these forms;
  • organizing and conducting public debates, discussions, and presentations;
  • activities aimed at obtaining a certain result in elections or referenda; monitoring the implementation of elections or referenda, forming election and referendum commissions, and participating in the activities of political parties;

or, for example, if an NCO:

  • publicly appeals to government agencies, local self-government bodies, and their officials, or performs other actions that affect the activities of such bodies, including those aimed at the adoption, amendment, or repeal of laws or other regulatory legal acts;
  • disseminates (including through the internet and other information technologies) opinions in regard to the decisions taken by the state bodies and their policies;
  • contributes to the formation of socio-political views and beliefs by conducting public opinion polls and publishing the results or conducting other types of sociological research;
  • involves other people in these activities;
and/or

  • finances any of the above activities.

The activities of most NCOs can be perceived as political activities. However, everything depends on the context, conditions of doing business, partners involved, media coverage, the position of the head of the NCO in question, the role of the organization plays in the city/region, amongst other factors.

The political activities of individuals will be discussed below.

Q:
What is not considered political activity?
A:
The law establishes that political activity does not include activities in the fields of science, culture, art, health care, prevention and protection of citizens' health, social services, social support and security of citizens, protection of motherhood and childhood, social support of people with disabilities, promotion of a healthy lifestyle, physical culture and sports, protection of flora and fauna, and various charitable activities.

However, in practice, it is possible that the registry of NCOs – FAs may include organizations working in the aforementioned fields. It should be noted that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) does not examine an NCO's stated goals in its charter, but rather the activities the organization carries out in practice. For example, if a charitable organization helps its wards by purchasing necessary medical supplies or pays for rehabilitation activities, this will be attributed to charitable activities, but if the same organization writes to the municipality or publicly advocates for a more accessible environment for people with disabilities, it could be recognized as political activity.

As for the political activity of individuals, there is no standard practice yet. It is likely that public speeches, distribution of political materials on the internet, as well as participation in election campaigns and protests, will fall under this definition. The regular, everyday activities of an individual would rarely fall under the definition of political activity.

Q:
What are the consequences for an NCO that is recognized as an FA?
A:
If an NCO is recognized as an FA (NCO-FA), it must comply with the following requirements:

  • the NCO, its founders, participants, members, managers, and individuals participating in the work of its governing bodies are required to clearly mark all of the materials published or distributed by the organization, which would establish that the materials are published/distributed by an NCO-FA;
  • conduct an annual audit of the accounting (financial) statements and submit its results to the MoJ following a special procedure;
  • submit reports in accordance with the special NCO-FA requirements and comply with different deadlines;
  • every six months, post a report on the NCOs' activities on the internet, providing the same volume of information submitted to the MoJ, or provide the report for publication to the media.

In addition, an NCO-FA:

  • may not acquire the status of an NCO that performs public benefit services, which allows to apply for a government support on a priority basis;
  • is barred from participation in election campaigns and referendums, and is also disallowed to make donations to candidates' election funds or referendum funds; and
  • may not be included in the Federal Registry of Youth and Children's Associations that receive government support, which, in. turn, bars the NCO from applying for government support.
Q:
What are the consequences for a UPA that is recognized as an FA?
A:
The consequences for UPA being recognized as a FA include the following:

  • it is obligated to inform the MoJ on a quarterly basis about the amount of money and (or) other property received from foreign sources within the reporting period, the purpose of spending these funds or use of other assets, the actual expenditure and use of assets, any changes in the data included in the registry, in accordance with the procedure established by the Ministry of Justice (note - the corresponding procedures have not been established yet);
  • a UPA, its founders (participants, members), managers, and individuals participating in its governing bodies are obligated to attach a corresponding label on materials published or distributed by the association (note - the requirements relating to the content of the label have not been established yet).
Q:
What are the consequences for an individual who is recognized an FA?
A:
For an individual, the consequences of being recognized as a FA include the following:

  • every six months, the individual must submit a report on activities related to FA status to the MoJ, including information on the purpose of proposed spending and using property acquired from foreign sources, as well as on actual expenditures and use - following the procedure established by the MoJ (note - the procedures have not been established yet);
  • there is an obligation to indicate FA status when carrying out activities, including any communications with government agencies, local self-government bodies, public associations, and educational organizations;
  • the individual is required to label any materials published and/or distributed by an individual recognized as a FA. Any information regarding the activities of an individual with FA status that appears in the public space must also be accompanied by a special marking (note - the requirements on the content of the label have not been established yet); and
  • individuals with FA status are banned from holding positions in state bodies and local self-government bodies.
Regarding an individual's personal matters, such as, for example, correspondence with a management company about checking water meters, ordering food and non-food items, fulfilling professional duties that do not involve public speaking and collecting information in the technical and military fields, amongst other matters, it is assumed that these would not be perceived as activities related to the performance of FA functions.
Q:
Is it possible to challenge FA status? What is the likelihood of a successful challenge?
A:
Russian law provides the opportunity for a FA to be removed from the relevant registry. To start the process, an entity recognized as a FA must submit an application or petition (for citizens) to the MoJ and prove either the absence of foreign funding and/or receipt of other property from foreign sources, or a lack of evidence of their engagement in political activities.

Upon receipt of the specified application or petition, the MoJ will conduct an inspection and decide whether to exclude the entity from the registry or to reject the application. Since almost any activity can be perceived as 'political,' it would be nearly impossible to prove its absence. However, in theory, it is possible to challenge whether funding was obtained from a foreign source. An entity would have to provide evidence that the funds were received, for example, from a legal entity that is a subsidiary of PJSC Gazprom, since companies with state participation and their subsidiaries fall within the exception and may not be viewed as "foreign sources" under any circumstances.

Thus, theoretically, there is a possibility to challenge inclusion in the FA registry. However, there have been no cases where an organization was removed from the registry as a result of a court challenge. Only entities lacking foreign funding during a fiscal year have been successful in being removed from the registry. There have not been any precedents involving individuals yet.

Q:
Who cannot be declared an FA?
A:
The following categories of entities cannot be recognized as FAs:

  • employees of diplomatic missions, employees of consular offices of foreign states in the RF, representatives of foreign state bodies and international organizations working on the territory of the RF pursuant to an official invitation;
  • foreign journalists accredited in the RF, including those recognized as foreign mass media performing the functions of FAs - in accordance with the legislation of the RF on mass media (except in cases of carrying out activities incompatible with the professional activity of a journalist);
  • other entities based on the decision and procedure of the MoJ - in coordination with the Federal Security Service (FSB), Federal Guard Service (FSO), Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and Ministry of Defense;
  • foreign organizations, including those with structural divisions (affiliate and representative offices) on the territory of the RF;
  • commercial organizations;
  • political parties;
  • religious organizations;
  • state-owned corporations and state-owned companies, including non-profit organizations created by them;
  • state/municipal institutions;
  • employers' associations; and
  • chambers of commerce and industry.
Q:
What is a UPA? What makes it different from an informal group of citizens?
A:
Three college friends who meet every weekend to discuss the latest developments in their lives are not considered a public association. The same three friends who meet to exchange the latest news, discuss issues related to artificial intelligence, and agree on topics for the next meeting are also not considered a public association. If the three friends later decide to develop a charter and choose governing and auditing bodies for their group, they are considered to have established a UPA. However, Russian legislation does not clearly regulate the legal status of such an association.

On behalf of a UPA, it is possible to send proposals to state authorities or local governments, report this information on a website, launch PR campaigns, freely distribute information, conduct activities to protect common interests and achieve common goals, amongst other activities. To conduct financial and economic activities, such as acquiring money or other property in the name of the association or concluding contracts, the UPA would have to registry with the relevant state body as a legal entity.