Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended a recent wave of much-criticized state inspections of Russia's nongovernmental organizations, saying Russia has a right to monitor the funding those groups receive from abroad.
"I would like to mention the numbers once again. Within four months after the relevant law has been enacted in Russia, there has been -- and I want to draw your attention -- 28.3 billion rubles transferred into the accounts of NGOs from abroad. This is almost $1 billion," Putin said.
"Just within four months. It cannot leave us indifferent. Our people are entitled to know where this money comes from and what for."
Russian authorities say they are checking if the NGOs are in compliance with a new law on foreign financing for NGOs that went into effect in November. Inspectors have demanded financial and registration documents, among others, from dozens of organizations.
The law includes requirements that NGOs operating in Russia be officially registered as "foreign agents" if they receive financing from abroad.
Speaking at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hannover on April 8, Putin suggested the money given to Russian NGOs could have been better used to help financially-troubled countries like Cyprus.
Merkel said she had expressed Germany's concern over the NGOs inspections, and reiterated her support for a strong civil society.
Two German think tanks were among the scores of NGOs subjected to inspections in recent weeks across Russia.
Earlier in the day, Putin and Merkel visited the Hannover trade fair where Russia is this year's guest country.
A group of bare-breasted women activists from Ukrainian women rights group Femen confronted Putin at the fair.
The women shouted "dictator" before being taken away by security personnel.
Putin said he "liked" what he saw and that the attention given to the protest had actually helped promote the trade fair.
"To be honest, I could not figure out what they were shouting because the security stepped in really harshly. Huge guys jumped on the girls. I don't think it is right, they could have been treated more gently," Putin said.
"We have already got used to such actions and I do not see anything terrible in them. Of course, it is better not to violate public order," he added. "If somebody intends to discuss political issues it is better to do so with one's clothes on, without undressing."
Putin's arrival at the trade fair on April 7 also drew protesters, some of whom were dressed in striped prison uniforms. Peskov said Putin did not see that protest.
Merkel told Putin in a speech at the opening of the fair on April 7 that Russia needed to encourage civil society
, including nongovernmental organizations.
With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and AFP