President Vladimir Putin said he would consider making amendments to controversial legislation aimed at clamping down on foreign-funded nongovernment organizations in Russia.
Putin warned Thursday, however, that his administration would pay close attention to foreign governments funding NGOs, hinting that some groups were being used to exert influence on Russian political life from abroad.
Lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday gave preliminary backing to a bill that would severely restrict all NGOs and foreign-funded groups in particular. Critics have warned this is another step in cementing the Kremlin's control of Russian society.
"I believe the continued financing of political life in Russia from abroad must be within the government's sight, especially if this financing from abroad is carried out through governments of foreign countries," Putin said in televised remarks.
"Organizations functioning in our country and involved in political activity are basically being used as an instrument of foreign policy of other states," he said.
At the same time, Putin acknowledged that "when solving these kind of issues, civil society institutions must not suffer."
He said that he would consult with parliament leaders "so that no steps in this sphere would inflict damage on civil society in Russia," the Interfax news agency reported.
Putin's remarks at a meeting shown on state television with Ella Pamfilova, head of the presidential human rights commission, appeared to be an effort to appease opponents of the bill, which has been severely criticized.
The human rights official warned the president that the measure would "severely toughen" the rules governing NGOs and "and as a result the activity of the majority of our organizations will be paralyzed for a long a period and a fair share of them may disappear altogether."
The bill requires local branches of foreign NGO's to reregister as de-facto domestic entities and thus be subject to stricter financial and legal control. The measure also gives Russian officials broader oversight over the activities of all NGOs and enables Russian courts to close them down, if the groups are found to be involved in extremist or unconstitutional activity.
Foreign-funded groups which often criticize the government on human rights and other issues say the bill could effectively terminate their Russian operations if it is eventually enacted.
The bill must still go through two more readings in the State Duma, win approval in the parliament's upper house and then be signed into law by the president, reported AP. P.T.