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September 18, 2012

Moscow Asks Washington to End USAID Programs in Russia

by James Brooke

MOSCOW — Russia’s Foreign Ministry has asked the Obama administration to end all USAID programs in Russia and to recall the 13 American diplomats working here for USAID by Oct. 1.

In Washington, the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a statement Tuesday saying that USAID’s presence in Russia will end, but that U.S. diplomats “look forward to continuing cooperation with Russian non-governmental organizations.”
 
In Moscow, a senior U.S. administration official said the Obama administration will not change its human rights policy with respect to Russia.  He said Washington will look “for new ways to achieve those ends.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has enacted a series of restrictive laws since returning to office in May.  He and the country's state-run media also have been sharply critical of the United States.

In addition to the American diplomats, USAID employs about 60 Russians, some for as long as 20 years - since the start of USAID program in Russia.
 
During the 1990s, the program was heavily oriented toward helping Russia move from a state-controlled economy to a free market system.  In 1995, USAID funding totaled some $257 million compared to about $50 million this year.
 
During the last decade, the money increasingly has gone to human rights groups and to bolstering civil society in Russia.  USAID provides the majority of the money for Golos, Russia’s only independent vote counting group.  Memorial, one of Russia’s leading human rights group, receives much of its funding from USAID.
 
President Putin increasingly has said that the United States is funding groups that have an impact on Russian politics.  In July, the Kremlin responded to a wave of street protests by passing a law that forces groups that receive foreign aid to declare themselves “foreign agents.”
 
Experts say Washington might choose to continue the funding, but without an oversight presence in the country.  And a senior U.S. administration official in Moscow said Tuesday, “There is no prohibition for Russian organizations to take money from foreign sources.”
 
About $18 million each year goes to help Russian organization fight such health problems as tuberculosis and AIDS.
 
The last time Russia ended a major American aid program here was in 2002, when the Kremlin terminated the Peace Corps program in Russia.