Russia kicks out USAID for “meddling in Russian politics”

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 20, 2012

USAID allegedly helps monitor elections in remote areas of Russia.

The Agency for International Development (USAID) will stop work in Russia as a result of a government ban on the American organization due to what the Russian government says it is the continuous meddling of USAID in its political scenario. The move will impact Russian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which depend on USAID’s funds to carry out their programs.

USAID has until Oct. 1 to close its offices in Russia, where it’s been working since 1992, spending some $ 2,600 million. Projects funded by USAID range, according to the organization, from combating tuberculosis and AIDS to educating children with disabilities as well as  monitoring and controlling of elections in a large geographical area.

“The nature of work of the agency representatives in Russia in many cases did not meet the stated goals of development and humanitarian bilateral cooperation”, said on Wednesday Russian foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich. Lukashevich accused USAID of “attempting to influence by allocating grants in the political process, including elections at different levels and institutions of civil society.” The “activity” of the agency in “various Russian regions, especially in the North Caucasus, raised serious questions” about which “we warned repeatedly our American colleagues,” he said.

USAID works in numerous administrative units of the Russian Caucasus, from Chechnya to Ingushetia through Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Krasnodar and Stavropol. In these provinces there are projects related to electoral monitoring by Golos. The director of this NGO, Lilya Shibanova, called the decision a”bad sign” and a “heavy blow” to her organization. She said the immediate step to kick USAID out puts at risk the monitoring plan for the regional elections that will be held on October 14 in various Russian provinces.

Russia is now part of the countries that hold the “new donor” status, while rejecting the “recipient” label. This change turns the country away from receiving aid from all international organizations,” said Lukashevich. “The Russian civil society has grown and does not need” external aid, “said the spokesman for the foreign ministry, who spoke about the possibility of cooperating with the U.S. in third countries. With the expulsion of USAID, Russia makes it even clearer that the Kremlin leadership is aiming at restricting the activities of the opposition, which intensified with the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency.

In November, a new law will become effective which will require that a person registers as a “foreign agent” when working for an NGO whose political activities receive international funding. However, the Russian Ministry of Justice has had to seek help from academic experts to develop criteria on political activities that require participants to identify themselves as “foreign agents”.

From the perspective of the Kremlin, the U.S. and the West are trying to destabilize Russia and encourage protests against their leaders. However, this is not the only reason why the Russian government kicked out USAID. Some media outlets are now reporting on this move as a sign of the problematic relations between the U.S. and Russia. The measure also may be linked to “pride” from the part of the Russian government. The move to cut ties with American, or in general foreign organizations is not new in Russia. The government sought to end this kind of relationships and to change the way the country cooperates with foreign organizations, especially those of Western origin.

Another NGO that will be affected given the Russian decision to send USAID home, is “Memorial”, an organization that occupies its time and funds to maintain the historical memory of Stalinism. “It’s unfortunate,” said Yelena Zhemkova, a member of Memorial’s board. “We may have to reduce some of our programs and find money elsewhere, but we will move forward,” she said. “Those who really suffer are the programs to combat tuberculosis or helping handicapped,” he said. Projects funded by USAID at “Memorial” are “a ramp to enable disabled persons to travel on our premises and access the library.

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Russia didn’t veto attack on Libya and now wants cease-fire

NationalJournal.com
March 22, 2011

In a stinging rebuke of U.S. policy in Libya, the Russian defense minister accused the U.S.-led coalition of killing Libyan civilians through errant air strikes and called for an immediate cease-fire on Tuesday. The comments drew a quick rebuke from visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said the Russian criticism was based on “outright lies.”

Speaking to reporters following an hourlong meeting with Gates, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Russia continued to support the United Nations resolution authorizing the creation of a no-fly zone over Libya but made clear that Moscow was increasingly uneasy about the escalating campaign.

“Unfortunately, recent developments in the country demonstrate that it is experiencing real hostilities, destroying civilian facilities, and the killing of civilians,” Serdyukov said. “This shouldn’t have been let to happen and we informed our U.S. counterparts of our opposition.”

Gates, in his own remarks, said the coalition was going out of its way to avoid civilian deaths, noting that most of the strikes have targeted Libyan defensive systems located far away from major population centers. Gates also said he expected major combat operations over Libya to taper off markedly within the next few days; he is the first senior American official to put any sort of timetable on the ongoing offensive there.

Gates fired back at the Russians shortly after departing the Ministry of Defense. Speaking to reporters in his hotel overlooking the Kremlin, the American defense chief said he was taken aback by the ferocity of the Russian criticism of the ongoing American-led military operations.

“I’m a little curious, frankly, about the tone that has been taken,” Gates said. “It’s perfectly evident that the vast majority, if not nearly all, civilian casualties have been inflicted by Qaddafi… and it’s almost as though some people here are taking at face value Qaddafi’s claims about the number of civilian casualties, which as far as I’m concerned are just outright lies.”

Gates’s comments were an implicit rebuke to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who on Monday accused the U.S. of causing significant civilian casualties in Libya and likened the entire American-led operation there to a “crusade.”

That triggered an unusual public spat between Putin and his nominal ally and successor, President Dmitri Medvedev, about the country’s support for the U.S.-led military campaign against Libya. Medvedev fired back quickly, telling reporters was that Putin’s comments were “unacceptable.”

Russia had abstained in the U.N. Security Council vote that authorized members to take “all necessary measures,” including military force, to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by loyalists to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and enforce a no-fly zone.

American officials traveling with Gates said the two Russian leaders had probably been surprised by the scale and intensity of the allied bombing campaign inside Libya. But the U.S. officials said that, at least for the moment, they didn’t expect Russia to take steps aimed at bringing the conflict to a close.

Qaddafi-controlled media reported dozens of deaths by coalition airstrikes, while the U.S., France, and Britain reported Monday that they had no indications of civilian casualties.

“We have been very precise in our instructions to the air crews about what they may and may not do, and we are very, very conscious in… limiting civilian casualties,” said commander of the operation in Libya, Gen. Carter Ham, on Monday, adding that the missions to protect civilians will only be conducted with force “where we can safely without risk to other civilians and causing collateral damage.”

Coalition air forces from the U.S., France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and the United Kingdom flew missions to sustain the no-fly zone over Benghazi to protect civilians from attack by regime ground forces and to conduct further reconnaissance, Ham said.