MOSCOW -- The Dynasty Foundation, a leading private donor and benefactor of Russian science and education that was branded a “foreign agent,” has announced its closure in what academics and politicians called a severe blow to science and civil society in Russia.
The “liquidation” of the foundation -- announced in a curt statement on its website -- is seen by Kremlin critics as evidence that cash-strapped Russian science is becoming collateral damage of President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on civil society and his campaign to weed out “foreign agents.”
"This is a heavy blow,” Yevgeny Yasin, a former economy minister and member of Dynasty’s board, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service on July 8. “Moreover, this blow has been imparted by the state against itself -- against the current authorities."
The Dynasty Foundation was founded in 2002 by Dmitry Zimin, a Russian tycoon who made his fortune in the VimpelCom telecommunications giant, and has plowed millions of dollars into scientific research stipends, events, and publications.
In May, Zimin withdrew 435 million rubles ($7.6 million) in grants earmarked for 2015 after the Justice Ministry branded Dynasty a “foreign agent” -- a stigmatizing Cold War-era term invoked under a 2012 law to describe any organization that receives funding from abroad and is deemed to be engaged in political activity.
The ministry asserts that Zimin finances Dynasty from his foreign bank accounts -- a fact corroborated by Zimin -- and that the Dynasty Foundation has provided grants to Liberal Mission, an NGO run by Yasin that aims to spread liberal values.
The law requires registered foreign agents to mark all their publications and materials with the term “foreign agent.” The label would have been likely to scuttle Dynasty’s cooperation with state science programs, schools, and libraries.
Activists say the law, which Putin signed in July 2012, is part of a growing crackdown on civil society that he launched upon his return to the presidency after four years as prime minister. In May of this year, Putin signed a new "undesirables" law that empowers the government to ban foreign and international organizations deemed a threat to Russia.
The Justice Ministry fined Dynasty 300,000 rubles last month for refusing to register as a foreign agent. It has also branded Liberal Mission a foreign agent and fined it for failing to register.
The harassment of Dynasty has been condemned by influential politicians -- including Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin -- who said the saga showed the foreign agent law is “flawed.”
In June, 1,500 Muscovites gathered in Moscow to protest the harassment of Dynasty.
'Disgrace' The Reputable
“If the aim of this show action was to disgrace in the eyes of society those whose reputation is faultless, then it has been successful,” the advisory Kremlin council on human rights and civil society said in a statement.
It continued: “Dmitry Zimin and Yevgeny Yasin are known across the world as true patriots of Russia who have invested in the development of civil understanding and science not only with their efforts, but their own personal financial funds.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told state-run news agency TASS on July 8 that Dynasty could have continued operating despite the “foreign agent” designation and added, “we regret that the leadership of the foundation has taken the decision to liquidate the organization.”
Lyubov Chizhova of RFE/RL’s Russian Service contributed to this report.