Russia expels 'meddling' USAid

2012-09-19 15:04

Moscow - Russia on Wednesday said it had given USAid until 1 October to halt its work as the US aid agency was meddling in domestic politics, a move that risks sparking a new diplomatic crisis with Washington.

The termination of the US Agency for International Development's activities may also harm the operations of a string of NGOs that rely on its funding, including the vote monitor Golos that showed up irregularities in recent polls.

The unexpected move appears part of an increasing crackdown in Russia on civil society after President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term in May amid an outburst of street protests.

"The decision was taken mainly because the work of the agency's officials far from always responded to the stated goals of development and humanitarian co-operation," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We are talking about attempts to influence political processes - including elections at different levels - through its distribution of grants," it added.

USAid's activities "must be halted from October 1", it added, giving a short deadline that had not been revealed by the Americans when the decision was first made public in Washington on Tuesday.

'Heavy blow'

Anxious Russian NGOs expressed fears for their future financing - more than half of USAid's annual budget in Russia had been spent on democracy and civil society programmes as well as a substantial chunk on health projects.

"I am very sorry that the USAid office is closing," said Arseny Roginsky, the chairperson of Memorial, Russia's best-known campaigner for human rights and the preservation of historical memory across the country.

"It is impossible not to see here the continuation of the isolationist policy" of the Russian authorities, he added. Without giving further details, he described the material help of USAid as "significant".

Lilia Shibanova, the director of Golos, described the halt in USAid's operations as a "heavy blow".

She said there was now serious concern for the funding of its monitoring of local elections on 14 October, two weeks after the deadline for the closure of the USAid office.

"The problem is that as soon as Russian business starts giving funds to monitor elections it comes under pressure," she said.

No need of 'external leadership'

Viktor Kremenyuk, analyst with the USA-Canada Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that while the move was not an outright U-turn in foreign policy, it was a Kremlin "gesture aimed at worsening relations between Russia and the US".

"Russia wants to say 'we do not need your help, we can stand on our own feet'," he said.

The foreign ministry statement said that Russian civil society was "quite mature" and the country - now itself a foreign donor - was in no need of "external leadership".

The expulsion of USAid comes after Putin signed a law forcing NGOs that receive funding from abroad to register as "foreign agents". He has even compared organisations like Golos to the disciple Judas who betrayed Jesus.

A senior US administration official said that Washington regretted the decision, which according to a US government source also affects the future of 13 US staff in Moscow and 60 Russian staff.

"This is a difficult day for USAid," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Similar incidents

It is unclear whether some if any US funding of the organisations can continue but the official said that President Barack Obama's administration was committed to promoting civil society in Russia.

"Over the coming weeks and months the Obama administration will be looking at ways to advance our old foreign policy objectives using new means," said the official.

The United States had first learned of the measure when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the Apec summit in Vladivostok earlier this month, the official said.

The departure of USAid echoes the 2007 clampdown on the activities of the British Council cultural agency which poisoned relations between Moscow and London. The US Peace Corps had also been asked to leave Russia in 2002.

  • fred.fraser.12 - 2012-09-19 15:28

    Russia under Putin, the neo-Communist ex-KGB officer, is becoming more and more oppressive.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-09-20 03:40

      If only you'd protect innocent Muslims from being killed and maimed by members of your own community, as much as you perceive the US is meddling, there'd be much less violence in the world.

      ludlowdj - 2012-09-20 11:59

      Communism never fell, it simply attempted to divert attention.

  • roger.kaputnick.90 - 2012-09-19 15:53

    I hope they are not getting any aid using my tax dollars.

  • fraserjessie - 2012-09-19 18:14

    The Cold War is not over, it is simmering in the backround.

  • imtiaz.osman.5 - 2012-09-19 18:18

    American leaders are always meddling with other countries using NGOs and financial Aid as a front and either dictating to leaders to change policies to suit american leaders. If the leaders of that country don't listen to the americans then they find group of people who will help them change the the leaders of that country. If the american leaders really want to help the world they need to start in their own country. There is a lot of poverty in america. They also have citzens protesting like the OWS. Instead of helping them they are arresting them for peacefully protesting. CHARITY begins at HOME.

      fred.fraser.12 - 2012-09-20 03:42

      Another person completely blind and doing nothing about the wholesale slaughter of innocent Muslims by members of his own community. Blaming the US is much easier, for weaker people with weaker, do-nothing characters.

  • hudayfah.newman - 2012-09-20 08:01

    This is not the first country complaining about these american NGO's . Not long ago Egypt also sent a bunch of them packing.

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