The eviction of USAID will be “a huge blow to a whole number of organizations,” said a senior official of a Russian non-governmental organization.
The shutdown also deals a blow to the Obama’s administrations to ‘reset’ US-Russian relations, according to observers.
“The United States recently received the Russian government’s decision to end USAID activities in the Russian Federation,” the State Department’s Victoria Nuland confirmed today.
“We are extremely proud of what USAID has accomplished in Russia over the past two decades, and we will work with our partners and staff to responsibly end or transition USAID’s programs,” she said. “We remain committed to supporting democracy, human rights, and the development of a more robust civil society in Russia and look forward to continuing our cooperation with Russian non-governmental organizations.”
A Russian NGO official suggested that foreign funding had made NGOs vulnerable to attack after the Kremlin targeted Golos, a USAID-funded election-monitoring group, as a tool of Western governments.
“All these years it was never an issue, but now it has become one,” the NGO official said.
The decision demonstrated that Russian authorities are “trying to make it more difficult” to provide foreign-funded democracy assistance, said the Brookings Institution’s Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
“They see AID’s efforts in Russia as being a prime funder of the NGOs that are concerned about their elections and concerned about the regression of democracy in Russia,” Pifer said.
The decision also appears to confirm the depth of the Kremlin’s “wild fantasies of an all-powerful State Department.”
“To anyone who knows anything about how Foggy Bottom actually works, its Bondian image in Russia is nothing short of hilarious,” writes Yulia Ioffe:
“The conspiracy theories are all 100 percent correct,” quipped a Hill staffer who works on foreign policy. “The Russians cracked the code on this one. The State Department really is the center of a conspiracy so vast that it boggles the imagination.” People inside the State Department hardly recognize the organization that the Russian government describes. “The Russians see the State Department as this pseudo-mystical, omniscient, omnipotent organization,” explained one State Department employee in Moscow. “Little do they know that we live from budget to budget, and that, at times, we’re even worried about our salaries!”
Whence comes this ill-fitting lionization of a rather unwieldy, bureaucratic ministry? Aside from the obvious propaganda benefit of having an external enemy, a large part of it is rooted in the Russian proclivity to see puppeteers and conspiracies everywhere. In Russia, as in many societies with closed systems of government, nothing is as it seems, even when the counter-intuitive becomes the counter-factual. Archives filled with documents proving mass repressions in the 1930s? Forged. People coming out to demand democratic freedoms on their own? Please.
To be fair to the Russians, Ioffe writes in the New Republic, the State Department is interested in promoting democracy:
In Russia, those efforts are mostly conducted through USAID and NDI [the National Democratic Institute], as well as by grants to local NGOs. These efforts, of course, are officially unwelcome and seen not as a strain of quixotic American idealism, but as meddling. In fact, there was talk recently of the Russian government shutting down USAID on its turf. “Of course, no one pays them to organize protests, but they pay them for years to promote ‘democratic values,’” explains [political technologist Sergei] Markov, who, ironically, spent a decade working for NDI in Moscow. “I think the State Department itself participates very little in what is happening on the ground, but they are happy that these protests are happening, no doubt.” (“Many Russians really think NDI can cause color revolutions,” says [analyst Charles] Kupchan. “Empirically, I don’t think that’s the case. They have a lot of very young people running around in these countries.”)
USAID’s eviction follows a broader ‘cold war’ against Russian civil society groups in the wake of the large-scale anti-government protests against last year’s fraudulent Duma election.
The provisions of a new NGO law require foreign-funded civil society groups engaged in political activity to register as “foreign agents.”
President Vladimir Putin directly accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of orchestrating the demonstrations as part of a US effort to destabilize Russia.
Golos is also supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. NDI is one of the NED’s core institutes.