A small but influential group of medics and political activists led by a close ally of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny will have to notify Russians that it is a foreign agent after a new ruling from officials in Moscow.
On Wednesday, a source from the country’s Ministry of Justice told Interfax that the Doctors’ Alliance, which describes itself as a trade union, had been listed. It will have to display its status prominently alongside information it publishes, both online and offline, or else face fines.
The head of the group, Anastasia Vasilyeva, is currently subject to a curfew while under investigation for reportedly breaking Covid-19 pandemic prevention laws during a series of protests that took place in cities across Russia in January. They had been organized in support of Navalny, who was detained after landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on accusations he broke the terms of a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence for fraud.
Vasilyeva, an ophthalmologist, was filmed playing a piano in her hallway while enforcement officers attempted to read her a search warrant. Other high-profile Navalny supporters under investigation for similar violations include his brother, Oleg, and press secretary Kira Yarmysh.
Critics of the Doctors’ Alliance have argued that the group pursues coverage in Western media with politically-charged stunts, while Russia’s largest medical movement, the Health Workers Union of the Russian Federation, receives almost no attention despite representing around three million employees. By comparison, the Doctors’ Alliance describes its own membership list as “small.”
In April last year, at the height of Russia’s first wave coronavirus lockdown, Vasilyeva was arrested in the Novgorod region for breaking travel restrictions. She claimed that she had been delivering medical supplies to two local hospitals. Her entourage included a lawyer, a foreign reporter, and three cameramen.
On an earlier trip in January 2020, the union head announced that hospital workers in the Sverdlovsk region would begin a strike over poor working conditions. In fact, the picket consisted of four laundry workers. Another foreign journalist, Marc Bennetts of UK newspaper The Times, was invited along to document the visit.
In February, Moscow moved to tighten rules for groups deemed to be foreign agents, upping potential fines if they fail to declare their status. The chairman of Russia’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said at the time that equivalent laws were championed by the US.
“The Americans passed legislation of foreign agents in 1937,” he said, “and they are guided by this today as well. They introduced it to contain the Soviet Union and the ideas of communism, and they have continued it in order to protect their sovereignty.”
“Let’s do everything to prevent other states from interfering in our country and in our internal affairs,” Volodin added.
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