MOSCOW – Russia's only independent polling agency has reportedly been asked to register as a "foreign agent" after authorities claimed that it had received funding from abroad.
A report in the pro-government "Izvestiya" newspaper on May 7 cites an unnamed source in the Prosecutor-General’s Office as saying that the Levada Center received more than $126,000 in foreign funding in late 2012 and early 2013.
At least some of the funding was said to have come from the U.S.-based Open Society Institute of billionaire George Soros.
A law enacted last November requires groups with international funding to register as foreign agents, a move critics are calling a crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.
A number of prominent NGOs, including the Memorial human rights center, have been asked to register as foreign agents.
Last month, another organization, the Golos election watchdog, became the first NGO to be fined for failing to declare foreign-agent status.
Levada director Lev Gudkov has refused to comment on the "Izvestiya" report, saying he has yet to receive any official notification from prosecutors.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, however, Gudkov acknowledged that authorities have begun criticizing his center ever since Levada polls began to register a decline in the popularity of Vladimir Putin.
"[Putin] is losing support, very steadily, and not for the first year," Gudkov said. "This started in August, September 2008 when there was the peak of his popularity. At that time he had approximately an 87 percent approval rating. Since this time, we have seen a slow -- with some fluctuations during electoral cycles when there is a rise in the approval rating -- a slow decline in trust, approval, and popularity. And an increase in his negative rating."
Putin returned to the Russian presidency on May 7, 2012 after a controversial election that granted him an unprecedented third term after serving a term as prime minister.
A Levada poll conducted in April shows that 55 percent of Russians hope a new leader will replace Putin as president during the country's elections in 2018, when Putin is eligible to run for a fourth term.
Levada also shows 35 percent of Russians characterize Putin’s regime as "acting in its own interests."
An additional 27 percent said the regime was marked by thieving and mafia-style behavior.
With reporting by kommersant.ru and izvestia.ru