Skip to main content

Foreign Agents Everywhere | A Conversation with Galina Starovoitova Fellow Maxim Krupskiy

Maxim Krupskiy

Q: Describe your background and what brought you to the Wilson Center.

For more than twelve years I have been involved in human rights advocacy in Russia, first as a lawyer in such prominent Russian non-profit organizations as Memorial Human Rights Center, Civic Assistance Committee, Lawyers for Constitutional Rights and Freedoms, and later as an attorney-at-law. I specialized in defending the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, civil activists who were subjected to politically motivated persecution by the Russian authorities for participating in peaceful public events, and defended non-profit organizations that were labeled "foreign agents" by the Russian authorities.

The Galina Starovoitova Fellowship on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Kennan Institute is an excellent opportunity for me to continue my research analyzing the impact of "foreign agents" legislation on Russian civil society, which I began in 2023 as a visiting scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

I chose the Kennan Institute because this think tank is one of the world's most respected centers for Russia studies, brings together a large number of highly qualified experts, and creates a unique environment for researchers to freely share their ideas and meet with colleagues from around the world in the format of conferences and seminars on the most relevant issues in world politics, history, economics, law, and international relations.

Q: What project are you working on at the Center?

My research project is devoted to analyzing the challenges that Russia's repressive legislation on "foreign agents" poses to civil society. My goal is to trace the dynamics of this legal institution in Russia from its inception in 2012 to the present, to identify the main features of law enforcement practice, and to describe the impact this legislation has on Russian non-profit organizations, independent journalism, civic activists, and all those whom the Kremlin considers its ideological enemies. This topic seems extremely relevant, given the active development of legislation on "foreign agents" against the backdrop of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the aggressive official rhetoric that accompanies this lawmaking process.

Q: How did you become interested in your current research topic?

The idea of conducting a comprehensive academic study on "foreign agents" legislation came from my many years of defending Russian non-profit organizations that were labeled "foreign agents" by the Russian authorities for political reasons. I wanted to bring together the practical material accumulated over the years in the form of court decisions, positions of the Russian Ministry of Justice, and legislative initiatives and analyze it in order to have the most complete and well-reasoned understanding of how this repressive institution has developed and what consequences it has had for the development of civil society in Russia over the past twelve years.

Q: Why do you believe that your research matters to a wider audience?

Since the 2010s, legislation on "foreign agents" and its analogues have been actively developing in many countries around the world, and in most cases this trend has caused serious concern among representatives of the international democratic community, human rights organizations and human rights experts. Quite often this legislation is or can be used for political purposes. Russia in this case is the most radical example, but, unfortunately, it is far from being the only one. I hope that the results of my research will help to better understand the specifics of the repressive application of the legislation on "foreign agents" in Russia, as well as to identify those features of the legislation that make it possible to co-opt transparency for political purposes in order to prevent this from happening in other jurisdictions.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your research?

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my research is finding potential participants for in-depth interviews from among those who are on the register of "foreign agents", especially those who are still in Russia. This is due to the fear of people and organizations of being further persecuted by the state for the position expressed in the interview, which is understandable.

Q: What do you hope the impact of your research will be?

I hope that my research will give a broader audience a better understanding of how modern authoritarian regimes, such as the one in Russia, use legislation consonant with that of democracies for their political purposes and justify repression of civil society on the grounds of national security and sovereignty. I also hope that my research will make it possible to see the potential risks contained in the legislation on "foreign agents" and its analogues not only in Russia but also in other countries in terms of co-optation of transparency for political purposes and will become an occasion for discussion of mechanisms to bring it in line with human rights principles and requirements of international law.

About the Author

Maxim Krupskiy

Maxim Krupskiy

Former Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution
Read More

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more