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Moscow’s UN human rights office to shut its door

The UN (United Nations) human rights office in Moscow is set to close, according to reports, in a move that one analyst believes is warning shot to the Kremlin's political opposition, just months before parliamentary elections.

Russia's diplomatic mission in Geneva told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that a decision was made to close the UN's Moscow Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The translation of RIA's report from The Associated Press quoted ambassador Alexey Borodavkin as saying that "we do not see anything extraordinary" in the office's closure.

He went on to suggest that the UN office had fulfilled its obligation, having established human rights institutions across the country. A spokesperson for the OHCHR was not be immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.


Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sasha Mordovets | Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Daragh McDowell, principal Russia analyst at risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC via email that the UN's silence on the issue is an indication that its officers don't share Russia's view.

"It's very sad that the Russian government is closing the UN's human rights office, as it has done a great deal of good work," Rachel Denber, the deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at campaign group Human Rights Watch, told CNBC by email.

"The decision is also, sadly, not entirely surprising, coming as it does amid so many steps by the Russian government to close space for independent human rights work in the country," she said.

Russia has come under fire amid a spike in attacks against journalists, activists and organizations working to expose human rights abuses, particularly in the North Caucasus, a region which incorporates republics like Chechnya, McDowell explained. Authorities have also gone so far as to ban international rights groups like George Soros' Open Society Foundations, which was dubbed a security threat by prosecutors late last year.


"The Kremlin is also preparing for the September parliamentary elections, and may be worried about their potential to act as a focus for protest during a period of economic stagnation. The authorities are likely to spend the next several months attempting to harass, weaken and demoralize the opposition," McDowell explained.

President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party is currently leading pre-election polls at around 45 percent, according to a note issued last week by Teneo Intelligence Senior Vice President Otilia Dhand. That's a wide margin over the Communist Party, which comes a far second at 10 percent.

Dhand explained that administrative hurdles are likely to be utilized to limit opposition candidates from registering in the election, adding that the Kremlin isn't taking any chances.

"The removal of the OHCHR may be a form of 'signal' to the opposition that the gloves are about to be taken off," McDowell said.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September 18, 2016.

Russia's diplomatic mission in Geneva did not provide immediate comment when contacted by CNBC. Russia's presidential press office also wasn't immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

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