MOSCOW — Russia on Wednesday said it had given USAID until October 1 to halt activities as it was meddling in domestic politics, a move that risks sparking a new diplomatic crisis with Washington.organizations.
The termination of the US Agency for International Development’s work in Russia may also seriously harm the operations of a string of NGOs that are heavily dependent on its funding, including vote monitor Golos that showed up irregularities in recent elections.
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 cooperation,” 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.
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 programs as well as a substantial chunk on health projects.
“I am very sorry that the USAID office is closing,” said Arseny Roginsky, the chairman of Memorial, Russia’s best-known rights group which campaigns for human rights and 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”. — AFP