Ivan Volynkin, the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, has advocated serious government restrictions on Western-funded Armenian civic groups strongly opposed to Armenia’s deeper integration with Russia.
In an interview with the Russian-Armenian newspaper “Noev Kovcheg,” Volynkin was asked whether Russia should conduct more public relations campaigns to counter non-governmental organizations engaged in “anti-Russian propaganda.”
“I am convinced that Russia should be more active in asserting its presence in the information field here in Armenia,” he replied. “But other methods are also apparently needed for neutralizing those NGOs in Armenia that want to drive a wedge into Russian-Armenian relations.”
“Incidentally, Russia has enacted a law that regulates the work of NGOs in a very concrete manner,” he said.
Volynkin clearly referred to a highly controversial 2012 law that forced foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents" in Russia. The Kremlin has said the law is needed to protect Russia from outside attempts to influence internal politics.
Critics believe, however, that its real aim is to crush dissent. In an extensive report released in March, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the Russian authorities have used the law to seriously hamper the work of hundreds of NGOs involved in civil rights advocacy.
Armenia’s NGO-related legislation is far more liberal, putting few restrictions on local civic organizations financed by Western governments and charities. Most of them favor Armenia’s integration with the European Union and strongly oppose the Armenian government’s plans to join the Russian-led Customs Union. Some have staged rallies in Yerevan to protest against President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial decision to seek membership in the union.
Volynkin already raised eyebrows in Armenian civic and opposition circles last month when he declared that Moscow “will thwart any aggressive interference in the internal affairs of friendly states carried out under the pretext of spreading ideas alien to our minds and hearts.”