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The Financial Times - July 4, 2008 by Neil Buckley The work of dozens of international non-governmental organisations in Russia has again been thrown into question after Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, signed a resolution sharply reducing the number eligible for tax breaks. Mr Putin signed the resolution late on Wednesday, cutting from 101 to 12 a list of organisations allowed to make and receive grant payments free of tax. Large private organisations, including the Ford Foundation and the New Eurasia Foundation, were absent from the new list, leaving only a handful of intergovernmental bodies. Some NGOs said the move could mark a further political attempt to restrict their activities in Russia, following a clampdown while Mr Putin was president. But some suggested the change was designed to clarify previously murky regulations and criteria for inclusion on the tax-exempt list. Government officials insisted the motive was the latter, and said private organisations could still apply to be added to the new list before it came into effect next year. “You can of course look for a political explanation and ... argue that both Putin and [new President Dmitry] Medvedev have maintained that the involvement of foreign NGOs in civil society should be limited,” said Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow. “But it also can be interpreted as a mechanism to introduce fair rules of the game. My personal judgment is that this is not the final list. It really depends on whether institutions which claim this special status can prove to the Russian government that they deserve it.” Pyotr Gorbunenko, managing director of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Russia, believed the change to be politically motivated. “I think this is a result of efforts of our intelligence forces ... those who already introduced practically full control of the state over the activities of NGOs. This is the next step in the previous line,” he said. Nikolai Patrushev, until recently head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, has repeatedly insisted that some NGOs were being used by foreign intelligence services to attempt to foment pro-democracy revolution in Russia. Mr Gorbunenko said NGOs were being given only three months to apply to be included on the list, and warned that some organisations might opt to pull out rather than see nearly a quarter of their grant money go to the Russian budget. But both the Eurasia Foundation and WWF said even NGOs left off the list could escape the worst impact of the change since charitable donations, as opposed to grants, were exempt from tax.

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