10. Political and Security Environment
Political freedom continues to be limited by restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and crackdowns on political opposition, independent media, and civil society. In the aftermath of Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea in March 2014, nationalist rhetoric increased markedly. Russian laws give the government the authority to label NGOs as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding, greatly restricting the activities of these organizations. Since the law’s enactment, more than 150 NGOs have been labelled foreign agents. A law enacted in May 2015 authorizes the government to designate a foreign organization as “undesirable” if it is deemed to pose a threat to national security or national interests. Fourteen foreign organizations currently have this designation and are banned from operations in Russia.
According to the Russian press, 7,700 individuals were convicted of economic crimes in 2018; the Russian business community alleges many of these cases were the result of commercial disputes. Potential investors should be aware of the risk of commercial disputes being criminalized. In Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan in the northern Caucasus region, Russia continues to battle resilient separatists who increasingly ally themselves with ISIS. These jurisdictions and neighboring regions in the northern Caucasus have a high risk of violence and kidnapping. Since December 2016, the number of terror attacks in Chechnya claimed by ISIS has increased markedly, as have counterterror military operations. Chechens and other North Caucasus natives have joined the ranks of ISIS fighters by the thousands, and the group has issued threats against Chechen and Russian targets. In the past, ISIS affiliated cells have carried out attacks in major Russian cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. In 2016, Russian law enforcement reportedly thwarted planned ISIS cell attacks in both cities.
Public protests continue to occur sporadically in Moscow and other cities. Authorities frequently refuse to grant permits for opposition protests, and there is usually a heavy police presence at demonstrations. Large-scale protests took place on March 26, 2017, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in coordinated demonstrations in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and dozens of other cities across Russia to protest government corruption. Police arrested more than 1,000 people.