In a move that’s sure to further dispirit liberal opposition groups in Russia, Vladimir Putin’s administration made a bold move:
The Kremlin’s provocative decision to end two decades of work in post-Soviet Russia by the United States Agency for International Development — with little warning ahead of an Oct. 1 deadline — was announced on Tuesday by the State Department in Washington. The move stands to cut off aid that currently totals about $50 million a year, a relatively small sum but a potentially devastating blow for groups that came to rely on foreign money as domestic controls over politics tightened.
Via Meadia likes a lot of the work that USAID-backed groups do, but it’s definitely true that for one country to allow another this kind of access into its civil society—to make financial grants and provide assistance to organizations that play a role in its internal political life—requires a kind of trust that doesn’t exist between the U.S. and Russia these days. The U.S. clearly wants to change the Russian political system and Via Meadia is not surprised—not pleased, but not surprised—that the Russians don’t want to sit there like patsies while the U.S. works to build up the political opposition.The Obama administration in response sped up the development of a new private foundation, to be established under Russian law, which would receive the funds previously going to USAID. It’s not clear from the reporting how exactly this fund would function and what kinds of projects it would support. For our part, we’re fans of offering education: let’s use that money for scholarships and fellowships for Russian teachers and students to study in the U.S. It’s both less insulting and less controlling, and promotes the development of a more sophisticated Russian public opinion that will be better able to figure out what it wants and how to get it as time goes by.