Russia’s Parliament bans ‘foreign agents’ from elections in new crackdown

Russian authorities have slapped the “foreign agent” label on thousands of NGOs, news outlets, activists, and opposition figures who receive funds from abroad or are accused of promoting foreign interests.

In a move further restricting political freedoms in Russia, the country’s lower house of parliament voted unanimously on Monday to ban individuals and groups designated as “foreign agents” from participating in elections at all levels of government.

The amendments approved by the State Duma ban “foreign agents” from running for the federal Duma, regional legislatures, or local councils. They are also now prohibited from nominating other candidates or serving as election observers monitoring the integrity of the vote.

The legislation is the latest in a series of repressive laws aimed at suppressing dissent and criticism of the government under the pretext of countering foreign malign influence. Russian authorities have slapped the “foreign agent” label on thousands of NGOs, news outlets, activists, and opposition figures who receive funds from abroad or are accused of promoting foreign interests.

Those branded as foreign agents face stringent audits, fines, and public stigma, with their materials required to carry clear disclaimers. Rights groups condemn the policy as a Soviet-style tactic to discredit and marginalize independent voices.

Monday’s unanimous 336-0 vote underscores the near-total control President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party wields over the Duma after a sweeping crackdown on opposition movements in recent years. With no viable opposition bloc, proposed laws typically sail through with little debate.

While Russian officials defend the measures as a means of safeguarding sovereignty and security, critics see them as part of the Kremlin’s relentless drive to smother any potential threats ahead of the 2024 presidential elections. The political alliance backing Putin has left virtually no space for organized opposition groups or figures to enter the mainstream political arena.

The foreign agent restrictions add to a raft of recent laws also banning citizens deemed to have discredited the Russian military from running for elected posts. With the Ukraine war continuing to dominate the domestic agenda, the Kremlin appears intent on ensuring single-party dominance and a tightly controlled political environment heading into the next election cycle.