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Russia blacklists independent pollster as 'foreign agent'

Russia's justice ministry has branded Russia's only major private pollster a "foreign agent," a stigma that could lead to its closure.

The ministry issued a statement Monday evening saying that the Levada polling agency has been listed as a "foreign agency" after a snap inspection found some irregularities.

Following major protests against his rule in 2011 and 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding and found to engage in vaguely defined "political activity" to register as "foreign agents." Those who fail to comply face fines and potential closure. Many organizations have said the stigma of "foreign agent," which rings like "spy" in Russian, would make it impossible for them to work in the country.

The decision comes less than a week after the respected pollster founded by and named after the late sociologist Yuri Levada published its latest election survey, indicating a drop in the ruling party's ratings. Russia holds a parliamentary election on Sept. 18.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, March 14, 2016.
Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik/Kremlin | Reuters

Levada on Tuesday vowed to contest the ruling and expressed its dismay, saying that the ministry had not given it a chance to present its own case before issuing the decision.

"Placing an organization on a foreign agent list does not put an end to its activities, that's why we will continue our work," the Interfax news agency on Tuesday quoted Levada's deputy director Alexei Grazhdankin as saying. "That said, the foreign agent label can have a bad impact on our activities, on the perceptions of those polled."

The other two major Russian pollsters are state-owned and their surveys on political parties and politicians often differ significantly from what Levada research shows.