- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The U.S. State Department announced today that USAID is shuttering its office in Russia after the Russian government demanded that the group leave the country. USAID has operated in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and has spent around $2.7 billion in the country:
We are extremely proud of what USAID has accomplished in Russia over the past two decades,” Nuland said. “While USAID’s physical presence in Russia will come to an end, we remain committed to supporting democracy, human rights, and the development of a more robust civil society in Russia.”
Nuland didn’t criticize Russia for its action. But she said the money went to a wide variety of initiatives, such as fighting AIDS and tuberculosis, helping orphans and victims of trafficking, and improving the protection of wildlife and the environment. About a third of annual funds go to governance, human rights and democracy programs, she said.
“It is our hope that Russia will now itself assume full responsibility and take forward all of this work,” she said.
The move is likely conencted to a larger crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs, which are now required to register as “foreign agents." While recent project like a "Human Trafficking App Challenge" co-sponsored by the Demi and Ashton Foundation don’t seem explicitly political, other projects like a Human Rights Week in Voronezh last month probably irked Russian authorities, already suspicious of foreign attempts to undermine the government.
This is obviously yet another troubling development for the much-maligned U.S.-Russia reset, but many Americans would probably be surprised that Russia was still such a major recipient of U.S. aid in the first place. The world’s ninth largest economy received about $379 million in U.S. assistance in 2010, putting it in 20th place between Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Russia’s fellow BRIC countries — Brazil, India, and China — aren’t among the top 25 U.S. assistance recipients, despite having significantly higher poverty rates.