Russia Demands U.S. Agency Halt Work

Wall Street Journal

The Kremlin sounded its stiffest rebuke to U.S. democracy-building efforts in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, ordering the U.S. to halt work of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Russia by Oct. 1.

The move is a blow to the Obama administration’s avowed “reset” in relations between the U.S. and Russia, prompting leading Republicans to demand a strong U.S. response. The decision also adds Russia to the list of countries such as Egypt whose leaders, seeing disorder at home, have singled out U.S.-funded democracy-building programs for blame.

The U.S. State Department confirmed Tuesday it had received the Russian government’s decision to end USAID’s activities in the country. The Kremlin didn’t respond to calls to comment.

USAID, created in 1961 to promote democracy, human rights and public health, now works in more than 100 countries. With approximately 70 U.S. and local staff members in Russia, it has provided a backbone to U.S. efforts to foster a Western-style political system in the country.

Russian leaders, and President Vladimir Putin in particular, have been leery of U.S. support for democracy movements ever since the so-called color revolutions in Eastern Europe, and more so in the wake of the Arab Spring. Mr. Putin once described Russian NGOs that accept U.S. aid as “jackals.” Last December, he engaged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a public and heated exchange after she described Russian elections as flawed.

Since 1992, USAID has distributed $2.7 billion for projects in Russia ranging from election monitoring and prisoners’ rights to tuberculosis prevention and education for the handicapped. It had planned to spend $50 million in Russia this year, more than half of it on democracy and civic programs—a shift from funding in the 1990s, which had focused more on economic development.

USAID had recently stepped up funding of election-monitoring groups, which had alarmed the Kremlin by pointing out irregularities in parliamentary and presidential elections that paved the way for Mr. Putin’s return to the presidency this year.

“This is a very bad signal,” said Lilia Shibanova, director of the Golos vote-monitoring group, which has received most of its funding from USAID, according to Russia’s RIA-Novosti news service. “They were our main funds for election monitoring. There are very few foundations in the world that give money for election observation.”

Russia’s foreign minister delivered the first notice of USAID’s expulsion to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Vladivostok this month, according to U.S. officials, and was followed up with a diplomatic note from the Russians on Sept. 12.

Top Republicans seized on Russia’s announcement to criticize the Obama administration’s policy toward the Kremlin, which aimed to tone down the confrontational rhetoric of the Bush years. Republicans sought a sharp administration response to prove the U.S. won’t cave to the Russians.

“This shameful action by the Russian government should prompt strong criticism from the highest levels at the White House and the State Department,” said Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.).

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland refrained from criticizing the Kremlin, insisting the move was Russia’s “sovereign decision” to make.

“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,” Ms. Nuland 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.”

USAID’s expulsion appears to signal Mr. Putin’s resolve to continue tightening control over dissenters. In recent months, the government has stepped up pressure on civic and protest groups. One new law requires any organization receiving aid from abroad to register with the justice minister as “a foreign agent.” The government has also stiffened penalties for public disorder, libel and slander.

Tensions with the U.S. have been ratcheted up by legislation in U.S. Congress known as the Magnitsky Act, a human-rights law named for a young Russian lawyer who campaigned against corruption and died in prison. Russian leaders have for months threatened retaliation if the bill becomes law.

Mr. McCain, a co-sponsor of the legislation, renewed a call Wednesday for the bill’s passage; it enjoys strong bipartisan support but hasn’t been passed in a tight legislative calendar.

USAID’s departure will mean more than a dozen U.S. diplomats will have to leave the country and approximately 60 Russian USAID workers could lose their jobs. U.S. officials said that USAID work is virtually certain to be disrupted, since funding Russian activities from abroad or through other organizations will present a host of logistical and legal muddles.

“For many organizations, this will be a serious blow,” said Elena Panfilova, head of Transparency International in Russia, which gets a significant part of its funding from USAID. “There are a lot of activities in Russia that no one else supports—human rights, prisoners’ rights. Russian funding for those is minimal.”

In 2007, Russia ordered the British Council, which promotes British culture and language abroad, to cease its activities in regional offices. The British government said the move was illegal and called on the Russian government to reconsider. It didn’t. The Council closed some offices because it said it wanted to prevent pressure on Council workers there.

“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, the president of the Washington-based Freedom House, watchdog group with bipartisan backing.

“This decision sets a dangerous precedent and suggests that U.S. support for civil society ends when repressive governments apply pressure,” said Mr. Kramer, who was previously an assistant state secretary appointed by George W. Bush.

Russia is the only country in the former Soviet Union to expel USAID. Non-profit workers in Russia say it will be difficult for any of them to receive funding after the expulsion.

“We are the victims, I mean the ones who received the grants, as well as our population who got useful services from those grants—free legal services, education programs,” said Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest human-rights organization and longtime recipient of USAID funding, according to the Interfax news service. микрозайм онлайн buy viagra online https://zp-pdl.com/get-a-next-business-day-payday-loan.php https://zp-pdl.com/best-payday-loans.php unshaven girl

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