The Kremlin’s expulsion of the US Agency for International Development is perfectly consistent with the regime’s political strategy and increasingly xenophobic approach, according to a leading analyst.
“It is quite logical that all USAID’s efforts to work in Russia and promote democracy would be blocked and forbidden,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an expert with the Carnegie Centre in Moscow:
[T]he decision by the Russian government to end USAID’s activities fitted the logic of Mr Putin’s regime, which was searching for an enemy…She added that the new law requiring Russian NGOs to register as foreign agents if they received foreign funding had indeed made USAID’s work in Russia detrimental to the development of civil society.
“The new law threatens to turn NGOs into a ‘fifth column’ and as such it has become destructive for Russian NGOs to work with USAID,” she said.
Ekho Moskvy, the Moscow radio station, quoted experts as saying that they believe the decision is a sign of hostility towards organizations that are working to develop democracy and the rule of law in Russia, and that are funded by USAID. Among its partners are such organizations as Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Golos (which tracks election violations and came under concerted attack during the Russian political campaign).
“They have been very clear that they are not happy with our work with Transparency International or Golos, or other groups related to those types of activities,” said one American official who was not authorized to publicly discuss the diplomatic issues. “They have made that clear directly with those groups as well.”
The Kremlin’s move appears to have caught Washington by surprise, The Guardian reports:
Although rumours that the Kremlin was pressuring USAid had long swirled, the government’s means of informing Washington appeared sudden. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, first informed Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, of the planned move during a meeting at an economic summit in Vladivostok earlier this month. The foreign ministry sent official notice on 12 September.
USAid’s 13 diplomats will likely have to leave the country. The fate of the 60 locals that work for the office remains unclear.
Officials in Washington see the Russian move as part of the continuing war of attrition by Moscow against groups clamouring for greater democracy. They say it has been clear for some time that the Russian government has been irritated by USAid’s support for an array of pro-democracy organisations, civic society groups and human rights activists.
“In recent years Russia has bridled at the foreign aid flowing across its borders, in part because it views itself as a world power, a member of the Group of 8, and therefore more appropriately positioned to dole out assistance than to receive it,” the New York Times reports.
USAID’s withdrawal drew criticism from some pro-democracy activists and rights advocates.
“For USAID to up and leave Russia simply because Vladimir Putin asked us to do so is a betrayal of our decades-long support not only for grassroots human rights defenders, civil society, and development of the rule of law in Russia but also for assistance in areas like improving public health and the environment,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “This decision sets a dangerous precedent and suggests that U.S. support for civil society ends when repressive governments apply pressure.”
Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Golos are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy.