Legislation now covers citizens who study and report on those agencies and people working within them
Russians who study and report on the problems faced by the country’s military, space agency and security services, as well as the millions of people who serve in those agencies, can now be named foreign agents, as Russia expands restrictions on its own citizens under the controversial law.
Russia’s main security service has published a comprehensive, 60-item list of topics that could lead to individuals who so much as share reports of physical abuse or official corruption on social media being added to a quickly growing register of “foreign agents” who must file extensive financial reports and face other restrictions.
The list published by the FSB, the Russian intelligence and law enforcement agency, includes collecting information on military procurements, reporting on financial troubles at the Russian space agency Roscosmos, revealing information about soldiers’ morale and past military experience, and the results of investigations into abuses in the military and security and intelligence services.
The list is clearly aimed at keeping a lid on scandals that have erupted around the country’s vast military-industrial complex in recent years, which have been aided by the proliferation of smartphones with cameras and the availability of vast troves of personal data on illegal black markets.
Those revelations range from the exposure of the Salisbury poisoners as members of Russian military intelligence, to the exposure of Russian anti-aircraft weapons moving into Ukraine before the downing of MH17, to corruption scandals involving procurements of foods, reports of an experimental submarine sinking after a deadly fire, and reporting on vast corruption at Roscosmos.
Russia has claimed its “foreign agents” restrictions simply mirror those in other countries, mainly the US. But the law has clearly emerged as a cudgel to be used against disloyal media and other local critics who have little, if any, connection to a foreign government.
The new FSB list would send a chilling message to Russian journalists and thinktankers who focus on the military and regularly publish reports about planning, procurements, weapons development, and other aspects of Russia’s defence policy. It would also threaten a similar label for ordinary Russians who publish personal accounts or photographs that show vast troop movements, as happened ahead of Russia’s military buildup on the Ukrainian border this spring.
None of the information is believed to contain government secrets but its receipt by a foreign government or organisation, possibly by posting it on the internet, could be considered grounds for a “foreign agent” label. Once a person is put on the list, there is no process yet for that person to be removed.