MOSCOW -- Russian prosecutors have formally determined the activities of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to be "undesirable," paving the way for the nonprofit organization, funded by the U.S. Congress, to be outlawed on Russian territory.
The deputy prosecutor-general, Vladimir Malinovsky, has ordered the Justice Ministry to register NED as "undesirable" in line with controversial new legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in May.
It is the first time authorities have implemented the law.
Human rights activists have criticized the legislation as a way to stifle civil society.
The authorities have said the law is necessary to prevent foreign organizations from being used to undermine Russian security.
In a statement on its website, prosecutors wrote that they have "concluded that [NED] represents a threat to the foundation of constitutional order of the Russian Federation, the defense capability and security of the state."
They accused NED of using "Russian commercial and nongovernmental organizations" to organize "political actions with the goal of influencing authorities’ decision-making," delegitimizing local elections and "discrediting" the Russian armed forces.
Russian prosecutors said they had determined that NED provided around $5.2 million to these organizations in 2013-14.
Washington-based NED has funded some of Russia’s most prominent rights organizations, including the Moscow Helsinki group, headed by veteran activist Ludmila Alekseyeva.
The impact of NED’s designation under the law, which human rights advocates suspect is intended to isolate activists in Russia, was not immediately clear.
Responding to the designation, NED said in a statement that: "This law, as well as its predecessors, contravenes Russia’s own constitution as well as numerous international laws and treaties. The true intent of these laws is to intimidate and isolate Russian citizens."
Civil Society Crackdown
Individuals who work for such organizations inside Russia can be slapped with hefty fines or handed prison sentences of up to six years.
During his more than 15 years in power, Russian President Vladimir Putin has frequently accused the United States of meddling in Russia's affairs, and in particular of using NGOs and other organizations to undermine his government.
Kremlin critics call the "undesirable organizations law" part of authorities’ crackdown on civil society that has mounted since Putin returned to the presidency for a third term in 2012 after weathering large-scale street protests he accused Washington of fomenting.
Two months after his inauguration, Putin signed law enabling the authorities to brand NGOs as "foreign agents" if they have foreign funding and are deemed involved in political activities.
A previous Russian recipient of NED funding, the Committee Against Torture, said on July 28 that it was shutting down its operations due to its designation by the Russian Justice Ministry as a “foreign agent” under the law.
NGOs impacted by the law call it discriminatory and aimed at portraying them as spies for foreign states.
Committee against Torture head Igor Kalyapin told reporters on July 28 that the organization will be "liquidated" this week because it refuses to comply with the law.
He said his group has established a new head office that will avoid the "foreign agent" label by declining to accept foreign funding.