(Bloomberg) -- A Russian court on Wednesday ordered the closure of the Moscow Helsinki Group, the country’s oldest human rights organization, amid an accelerating crackdown on the remnants of civil society since President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The group was founded in 1976 at the height of the Cold War by Soviet dissidents and rights activists to monitor compliance with the Helsinki Accords, a pact intended to promote detente between East and West. It has the right to appeal the Moscow City Court’s ruling in favor of a Justice Ministry application to shut down the organization.

Putin in 2018 attended the funeral of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s chairwoman and co-founder, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who died aged 91. He visited the renowned rights activist at her home the previous year to congratulate her on her 90th birthday “on my own behalf and on behalf of the very many people who love you and are grateful to you for all that you do for them.”

Since he ordered Russian troops into Ukraine last February, the Kremlin has overseen a sweeping crackdown on critics and independent media that has driven most of Putin’s opponents into exile or jail. 

The ministry moved to close the Moscow Helsinki Group on the grounds that it conducted work throughout Russia while being registered as a regional body. The group’s co-chairman, Valery Borshchev, said the accusations were absurd as it had been working widely in the country since its foundation, the state-run Tass news service reported.

Russia last year shut down the Memorial human rights group, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December, saying it had failed to identify itself as a “foreign agent.” Founded by Soviet-era dissidents including Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, the group cataloged political repression ranging from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s mass purges to the persecution of dissent under Putin.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.