The Kremlin is tired of Western criticisms — that Russia is becoming more authoritarian, human rights are violated, journalists are at risk and elections are rigged.
Now the Kremlin is trying to turn the tables on the West, setting up a think tank its founders say will expose the flaws of Western democracies.
With offices in New York and Paris, the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation will study democracy and human rights in Europe and the United States.
Anatoly Kucherena, the organization's founder, told reporters Monday the institute will help Russia have a say in the global discussion about democracy.
"No country can monopolize the definition of standards of democracy and human rights," said Kucherena, a pro-Kremlin lawyer.
Funders not named
The Kremlin approved the creation of the institute but is not funding it, said Andranik Migranian, a political analyst who will head its New York office. It will be funded through donations from private businesses. Neither Migranian nor Kucherena would identify the funders.
In the eight years that President Vladimir Putin has been in power, the Kremlin has tightened its grip on the country's politics, making it more difficult for opposition groups to compete.
Independent news organizations, particularly broadcast media, have been squeezed and human rights groups and international election monitoring groups have increasingly criticized Putin's government.
Russia last month ordered the closure of the two regional offices of the British Council, a nonprofit organization that acts as the cultural arm of the British Embassy, saying they were operating illegally.
British officials dispute that claim, but the council said earlier this month it was suspending operations in the cities of St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg and accused Russian authorities of harassing its staff.
The Kremlin has worked aggressively to restore Russia's international clout and has become less tolerant of outside criticism. It has become even more hostile to Western attempts to promote democracy in Russia since the uprisings that ousted unpopular governments in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers and activists have charged that the United States was plotting similar unrest in Russia.
U.S. prison stats raised
Natalia Narochnitskaya, who will be the center's representative in Paris, accused the West of turning human rights into a tool for political pressure. And she criticized the United States for its large prison population and for what she said was a high number of police abuse cases.
The institute "will allow us to show that the sun has spots too," she said.
Among the reports that gall the Kremlin most are the annual "free-not-free" rankings published by Freedom House, a Washington-based non-governmental organization. The group runs on private and foundation funds as well as grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department and some European governments.
One of its recent reports called Russia a country "with entrenched authoritarian leadership" and said Putin's rule is "a model of governance that denies basic political rights and shuns democratic accountability."