Russia shows USAID the door

Relief supply from US Agency for International Development (USAID). (AFP Photo/Sergent Andres Alcaraz)
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced it will close its offices in Russia.

After 20 years of working in Russia, USAID officials said they were informed by the Russian government that their services were no longer required.

According to the Foreign Ministry, USAID was attempting to manipulate the election processes in the country.

“The character of the agency's work…did not always comply with the declared aims of cooperation in bilateral humanitarian cooperation,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website. “We are talking about issuing grants in an attempt to affect the course of the political processes in the country, including elections at different levels and institutions in civil society."

Russian civil society has become fully mature, the Foreign Ministry said, and did not need any "external direction." Moscow is read to work with USAID in third-party countries, it said.

In an interview to Kommersant, Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press-secretary, suggested that the US agency was not abiding by the rules regulating their work with NGOs.

“As all foreign agencies that provide financial support for Russian NGOs, USAID should abide by Russia's legal regulations,” Peskov said. “As long as the Americans abide by these norms, we obviously couldn't make a decision to terminate their activities on Russian territory.”

Moscow‘s decision to halt USAID programs comes after Putin in July signed legislation that requires nongovernmental organizations that receive funds from abroad to register as "foreign agents."

The law requires that Russian-based NGOs provide information as to how funds received from abroad are being used in Russia.

The United States has denied that USAID programs are aimed at interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs.

US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced the termination of USAID's operations in Russia on Tuesday. The Kremlin notified US officials they have until October 1 to close the mission.

Washington began its USAID operations in Moscow following the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, Russia was a basket case, dependent on IMF loan transfusions just to keep its head above water. USAID spent more than $2.6 billion in Russia on various projects, like cleaning up the environment and fighting against infectious diseases.

Russia’s domestic situation began to turn around, however, when the presidency passed from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. Today, Russia has not only returned its debts, but is now a lender of last resort for countries hammered by the 2008 financial crisis.

Although Russia’s reversal of fortunes is often explained by its vast natural resources, political will also played a significant role in the progress.

Since Russia no longer sees itself as a charity case, USAID activities were increasingly viewed as not only redundant, but even a little humiliating.

Aside from the growing irrelevance of such foreign-sponsored activities, there was the nagging suspicion inside Russia that these agencies served as fronts for purely political motives.

This year, for example, USAID was allotted $50 million to finance its Russia activities. Approximately 60 per cent of the budget was to be used for promoting democracy and human rights. This represents a dramatic increase compared with the former Bush administration.