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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a forum dedicated to civil society in Moscow on January 15.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) should help achieve "common national goals" and not oppose the government.

Speaking on live television at a forum titled The State and Civil Society on January 15, Putin said NGOs must not be involved in competition between authorities and the opposition.

Putin also called on regional authorities to delegate some of their functions in the social sphere to NGOs, suggesting he wants to use them as an arm of the government.

He said tax breaks might be given to nonprofit organizations but suggested they must stay out of politics to qualify, saying it was necessary to define the "political activities" of such groups.

Russia has cracked down on NGOs since Putin returned to the presidency in 2012, forcing many to register as "foreign agents."

Many of Russia's most prominent NGOs, including Memorial, Agora, and Golos, were not invited to the forum.

Protesters in four regions of Russian that are home to non-Russian ethnic groups have demonstrated to demand the release of a jailed Tatar activist, Rafis Kashapov.

Dozens of people took part in the single-person protests on January 14 in two cities in Tatarstan -- the capital, Kazan, and Chally -- as well as the capitals of Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, and Mari El.

They held posters saying: "Freedom for Rafis Kashapov!" and "Freedom for all political prisoners!"

Under Russian legislation, single-person protests do not require advance permission from the authorities.

Picketers told RFE/RL that the action was organized by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Russia -- a nongovernmental group that defends the rights of native peoples across the Russian Federation.

Kashapov, a prominent Tatar activist, was arrested in late December and charged with inciting ethnic, racial, and religious hatred via the Internet.

Kashapov has harshly criticized Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year and Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

His supporters say the charges against him are politically motivated.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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