I think the real situation is somewhere in between the Kremlin’s position and Mark Adomanis’ and the rest of the Western and Russian liberal media’s alarmism. So as far as this is concerned, I really do think Gudkov is exaggerating, not to even speak of the inevitable and hysterical comparisons to Stalinism cropping up in some quarters.
So what if Levada registers as a foreign agent? The fact will remained buried in the paperwork. Clients won’t care, so long as the sociological work is good.
Or it can simply refuse foreign financing, which according to Gudkov himself accounts for 1.5%-3% of its total.
The only danger to Levada is if it openly defies the law, and commits seppuku out of spite, so to speak. Which is not impossible, if very unlikely.
This does not however mean that the application of the foreign agents law to it is justified. As Gudkov himself argues, political research is not politics, period. While I do think comparisons of Russia’s law to FARA are valid, on paper, the application of them is not. Can you imagine US prosecutors going after the likes of Gallup or PEW if they do some contracts for foreigners?
The reason the witchhunt is stupid (in addition to being wrong) is that Levada actually supports the Kremlin’s record. 70% approval ratings for Putin coming from a state-backed pollster like FOM or VCIOM is one thing – the same numbers from a private pollster that gets money from Soros or the NED is a whole other level of credibility, at least so far as Western audiences are concerned.
If Bastrykin was wise and aware, he would waste no time reigning in the enthusiastic lower-level prosecutors going after Levada and other non-political NGOs. I am not sure he is either though.