The Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are only two of the many well-known U.S. non-profit organizations entrenched in a long battle against HIV and AIDS. For both organizations, the fight rages on in all parts of the world, including the Russian Federation. That fight may all but end in Russia — at least for the Gates and Clinton foundations. Earlier this year, as Vladimir Putin was beginning his latest six-year term as president, he and his house announced the requirement that all nonprofits receiving funding from organizations outside of the Russian Federation must identify themselves as "foreign agents."
This means that Russian nonprofits receiving money from any organization outside of Russia will be considered to be engaging in political activities and carrying out the interests of a foreign country. Say what now?
To say that politics doesn't have a place in non-profit work is a bit misleading. To say that politics shouldn't have a place in non-profit work is more accurate. Politics has its place, whether we like it or not, but that's an issue to be discussed at a different time, on a different platform.
Fact is, counts of the number of people living with AIDS in the Russian Federation vary wildly, from 300,000 officially registered cases to more than 1 million when considering unregistered cases. The U.N. has reported that annual AIDS cases have grown by 251% in Eastern Europe — with 90% of those new cases in Russia.
The Russian government has already attacked USAID and its estimated $50 million worth of programs, including health initiatives focused on HIV and AIDS. USAID had no choice but to comply and shuttered its Russian doors in October 2012. Both the Clinton and Gates foundations head up global health initiatives toward the education, prevention, and treatment of HIV and AIDS. The Clinton and Gates foundations are powerhouses, to say the least, with combined net assets of nearly $37.8 billion. For Russia's government to put the kibosh on access to that money borders on unconscionable.
This isn't about politics. This is about people. Sure, anyone could say that the Russian nonprofits could simply accept funds from non-Russian foundations and register themselves as foreign agents. Aside from the mind-boggling amount of bureaucratic red tape it takes to register, once an agency chooses to do so, it opens itself up to governmental control when it comes to the issues for which it advocates.
If the agency chooses to accept foreign money, it risks criminal penalties and financial penalties up to three million Rubles ($100,000). If an agency chooses to accept foreign money and not register as a foreign agent, it is choosing to break the law.
Russian nonprofits have found themselves steeped in a difficult if not impossible situation. It's definitely going to take some time to see how this new legislation plays out. Unfortunately, time is not something people suffering from diseases such as AIDS tend to have a lot of.