Putin signs law regulating Russian NGOs

By the Associated Press | July 21, 2012 | 11:38 AM EDT

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a reception in honor of members of the Russian national Olympic team departing for the 2012 London Olympic Games in the Kremlin in Moscow, Saturday, July 21, 2012. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press Service)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signed into law a new measure that requires non-governmental groups receiving funding from abroad and engaging in political activity to register as foreign agents.

Some NGOs have vowed to ignore or circumvent the law, while its critics note that the vague definition of political activity could be applied against a wide range of initiatives. Putin, meanwhile, has alleged that recent protests against him were instigated and funded by the United States.

The law also requires NGOs identified as foreign agents to submit detailed annual financial reports, which critics say would be a time-consuming and costly burden on organizations with small staffs and meager funding.

The law comes as authorities show increasing unease with a newly emboldened political opposition, which conducted the unprecedented wave of massive public protests in the winter and spring.

Putin last month signed a law vastly increasing fines for taking part in unauthorized demonstrations to a maximum 300,000 rubles ($9,000).

Some of the country's most prominent human rights groups are vowing to ignore or do what they must to sidestep the law on NGOs.

Lev Ponomarev, head of For Human Rights, one of Russia's oldest NGOs, told the Interfax news agency that his group will ignore the regulation and challenge it in court.

"We will never be agents and won't submit to this law. We're agents of the Russian citizens," said Ponomarev, adding that his group will continue to accept foreign funding.

But Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a veteran human rights activist, said her group will refuse foreign funding in order to get around the law, and that she's even preparing to auction off her collection of china and art to raise money.

"We will learn to live on very little money, in order to at least keep our office," she said on Echo Moskvy radio.