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Condemned As “Undesirable:” Russian Security Organization Laws and Subsequent Implications on U.S-Russia Relations


Bridget Peach


Introduction

The Language Flagship, overseen by the Institute of International Education (IIE), boasts 31 programs in 24 institutions across the United States. The Flagship offers programs in Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, and Turkish, 10 of the 13 critical languages as determined by the United States. Critical languages, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS), are languages deemed vital to furthering national security and economic prosperity. The demand for speakers of these languages far outweighs the supply; however, programs like CLS, through language and cultural skill development, produce scholars who advance mutual understanding worldwide.


Yet, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation begs to differ. On March 7, 2024, the IIE became the 150th addition to Russia’s list of “undesirable” organizations. The addition of the IIE subsequently condemns The Flagship Program, Boren Awards, Gilman Scholarship, and the other 200-plus organizations the IIE heads. Under the law, “On Amendments to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation,” organizations considered a security threat in Russia are forbidden from assembling, spreading materials, or otherwise continuing in any manner. 


Background

The United States launched The Language Flagship in 2002 under the National Security Education Program in an effort to boost college graduates’ regional knowledge and language skills. Many students who have completed the program now hold positions in the Department of Defense, the State Department, and countless other security and intelligence organizations. 


The Russian Flagship Program is currently housed at eight institutions of higher education, with the University of Georgia’s being one of the most recent additions. Through the program, students take intensive Russian classes and participate in immersive study abroad experiences at sites organized primarily by the American Councils for International Education. 


Both American Councils and the IIE were deemed “undesirable” on March 18, 2024, consequently barring any possible collaboration between the organization and students on Russian territory. Prior to 2020, CLS offered summer abroad programs in Nizhny Novgorod and Vladimir, Russia; the Russian Flagship, too, housed its overseas capstone year students in St. Petersburg, Russia, until 2014. Through programs for education, work exchanges, and English studies, Russian citizens have also long benefited from collaboration with the U.S. government and various organizations. For the past 70 years, the U.S. Department of State has sponsored and promoted exchange programs for students in attempts to build person-to-person relationships between Russian and American citizens. Despite this history, President Putin has effectively convicted any participant in the IIE, American Councils, and all other listed organizations of criminal harm under the law.


The Russian Federation first enacted the law censuring “undesirable” organizations on May 23, 2015. President Vladimir Putin was securely in his third term and seeking ways to further his political ideologies without third-party organizations’ intervention. The undesirable organizations law, officially known as “Federal Law of 23.05.2015 N 129-FZ, "On amendments of some legislative acts of the Russian Federation,” functionally rids these organizations of their legal platforms and voices. Leaders and members are silenced or become subject to criminal penalties. Among the first organizations to be labeled as “undesirable” was the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. Russia Foundation, and multiple other organizations initiated by the U.S.


Progression of Issue/Where It Stands Now

Exchange programs aiming to foster diplomatic and civil relations between American and Russian citizens are becoming more and more targeted as tensions increase. In January 2024, Sergey Nashkin, the Russian foreign intelligence chief, accused the U.S. of using its educational and cultural programs to influence Russian voters in the then-upcoming election. Nashkin cited the 80,000 Russians who participated in American organizations in 1992, charging the U.S. State Department with the creation of a fifth column in the election designed to politically “fight against the Russian government.” The U.S. Embassy in Moscow strongly rejected Nashkin’s claims, stressing their policy on cross-cultural conversations and international understanding. 


On March 7, 2024, Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned three more American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under, once again, allegations that the U.S. was using these organizations to influence the political opinions of Russians. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, with the U.S. Embassy, once again denied the accusations and argued for the power of interaction and engagement between citizens. The embassy further maintained that the continued condemnation of NGOs and civil societies by Russia’s Foreign Ministry is a detriment to their citizens’ freedoms, abilities to network, and potential e  in an advancing world.


Conclusion

While relations with Russia and President Vladimir Putin are continuously strained, the U.S. Department of State, the embassy in Moscow, and countless NGOs persevere in building mutual relations between American and Russian citizens. Ambassador Tracy, with the U.S. Embassy, continues to work with these organizations to encourage cross-cultural connections and educational programs for Russian citizens. Despite demands from the Kremlin and Russia’s Foreign Ministry to halt collaboration with “undesirable” organizations, the U.S. Embassy has proceeded to work with groups such as American Councils and the IIE in order to facilitate associations between American and Russian culture, language, and citizens. Without these programs and interpersonal relationships, Russian citizens may never have the opportunity to gain the cultural understanding necessary to promote peace. For example, the U.S. Embassy offers numerous exchange programs for students to study in the U.S. and learn English, thus allowing them to gain access to outside media and news sources. Their prohibition by Russia’s Foreign Ministry not only affects diplomatic relations but also gives the Russian government control over the information to which citizens have access. While the U.S. Embassy in Moscow must tread lightly due to ever-growing tensions between the two states, it is imperative that they continue efforts to grow trust among citizens, both American and Russian alike.

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