The VICE Channels

    A Russian Bird Conservation Group Has Been Labeled "Foreign Agents"

    Written by

    Derek Mead


    Image of cranes via Wikipedia

    The Russian government recently passed a series of laws concerning NGOs that require them to disclose if they have any foreign funding or political aims, upon which they'd be labeled "foreign agents." In other words, Russian officials are forcefully labeling NGOs as the equivalent of spies, which has caused plenty of legal and monetary troubles. The crackdown has now taken a strange turn: Russian prosecutors have now labeled a conservation group running an ecological preserve for rare cranes.

    The preserve in question is called the Homeland of the Crane (or Crane Homeland if you Google translate its Russian Wiki page), and has received support from the International Crane Foundation. That is foreign funding, sure, but conservation groups receiving international funding is hardly a new situation, nor is protecting birds an avenue for spying.

    It's simply absurd. As the Ria Novosti article breaking the story notes:

    The group says it is "outraged" that its members have been branded "foreign agents." Set up by Russian ornithologist Sergei Smirensky, it says it has no other activity than running a small reserve protecting rare birds from forest fires and poachers, and running ecological awareness groups for children.

    The group says it cannot put up with the burden of being classed as a foreign agent, which incurs considerable extra supervision from government and time-consuming red-tape for disclosure of funding and reporting on activities. Crane Homeland says it gets some funding from the International Crane Foundation.

    There's no denying that Homeland of the Crane gets funding from international sources, but if we're following the letter of the Russian NGO laws, how is a game preserve in any way political? Well, I suppose that Russia does have the largest oil company in the world, which is planning on drilling the living hell out of the Arctic.

    If you're feeling particularly tin-hattish today, perhaps the very act of protecting birds and caring for the environment is a politically hostile move? But if that's really what's going on here, that's clown shit. Attacking scientists for protecting rare birds is about as asinine a thing as a power-hungry official can do. What's next, dynamiting the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper because Americans made beautiful videos about them?