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Moscow Says USAID Expelled For Seeking To 'Influence Politics'

September 19, 2012


Russia says it is expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country following what it says were attempts by the mission to influence Russian politics and elections.

On September 19, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused USAID of seeking to "influence political processes, including elections of various types, and institutions of civil society through the distribution of grants."

The ministry said it was also worried by the mission's work in the volatile North Caucasus, where Moscow is fighting an Islamist insurgency.

In separate comments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Russia's civil society was "quite mature" and did not require "outside leadership."

Washington announced on September 18 that Moscow had ordered the closure of USAID.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was proud of what USAID had accomplished in the country in the past 20 years but accepted the closure as Russia's "sovereign decision."

Nuland maintained that the mission would nonetheless continue working with Russian nongovernmental groups.

"While our USAID physical presence in Russia is going to end, we remain committed to supporting democracy, human rights, and the development of a more robust civil society in Russia," she said.

Russian Central Election Commission member Maya Grishina said USAID's departure would not jeopardize the quality of Russian elections.

She said independent election monitoring was "guaranteed by Russian law" and would continue.

But the independent election monitoring group Golos, which receives funding from USAID, said the mission's withdrawal was "a very hard blow" that threatened the group's projects.

Golos director Lilia Shibanova said she believed the decision not to renew USAID's mandate was partly connected with the Kremlin's desire to control election monitoring.

Critics say it is part of a clampdown on dissent backed by President Vladimir Putin, who returned to the Kremlin in May for a third presidential term following an election denounced by the opposition as flawed.

Russian authorities have taken a tougher stance against the opposition and civil society in recent months, including moves to tighten controls on the Internet and raise fines for protesters.

USAID has been in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, spending more than $2.6 billion on programs intended to combat disease, protect the environment, strengthen civil society, and modernize the economy.

USAID has been asked to halt its operations in Russia by October 1.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and ITAR-TASS

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/moscow-expelling-usaid-for-seeking-to-influence-politics/24713378.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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