Russia’s lower house of parliament has voted in favor of a bill that will lift the requirement for lawmakers to make their annual income and asset reports public, significantly reducing transparency.
According to a statement posted on the State Duma’s website, after March 1, publicly available information on the tax returns of Russian lawmakers will no longer allow them to be identified.
Regulators will still be required to submit their returns to the tax authorities each year and a “summary” will be published based on this information.
“It’s about the protection of personal data,” said a lawmaker, Pavel Krasheninnikov, quoted on the website of the Duma.
The bill passed its third and final reading on Wednesday.
It still needs to be approved by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, and signed into law by the president, Vladimir Putin – usually a formality.
“De facto, we are returning to the Soviet model of fighting corruption, which should only involve law enforcement,” political scientist Alexei Makarkin told the Kommersant newspaper on Monday.
In December, Putin issued a decree removing the requirement for civil servants to declare their income and assets for the duration of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.
Transparency International ranked Russia 136 out of 180 in its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2021.
The vote came on the same day a Moscow court ordered the closure of Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group, silencing another respected institution.
The Moscow City Court judge granted a Justice Ministry request to “disband” the rights group, the court said in a statement. Moscow’s Helsinki Group said it would appeal the decision.
It is the latest in a series of court rulings against organizations critical of the Kremlin, a trend that intensified after Putin sent troops to Ukraine last year.
The Moscow Helsinki Group was established in 1976 when Russia was part of the Soviet Union and was considered Russia’s oldest human rights group.
For decades it was led by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident who became a symbol of resistance in Russia and died in 2018.
When Alexeyeva – the doyen of Russia’s human rights movement – celebrated her 90th birthday, Putin visited her at her home, bringing her flowers.
“I am grateful to you for everything you have done for a great number of people in our country for many, many years,” Putin told him then.
The Justice Ministry had accused the rights group of violating its legal status by carrying out activities such as trial monitoring outside the Moscow region.
Before Putin sent troops to Ukraine, Russia disbanded another mainstay of the country’s rights movement, Memorial.
The group emerged as a beacon of hope during Russia’s chaotic transition to democracy in the early 1990s and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year after being ordered to shut down.
The Russian government has used a series of laws to stifle criticism, including imposing prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading “false information” about the military.
Most opposition figures are now either in prison or in exile.