NGOs on closure of USAID


The US Department of State announced on 18 September that
the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is terminating its work in
Russia on the decision of the Russian government. State Department spokesman
Victoria Newland announced that the decision regarding partnership with USAID
is taken by each country independently.  
She added that the termination of the partnership with the USA will
not affect Russian participants in projects financed by the American budget. Separately,
the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the American side that the
activity of USAID must be terminated from 1 October of this year. The statement, posted on
the official site, claimed that ‘the nature of the agency representatives’ work
in our country far from always answers the stated aim of assistance for the
development of bilateral humanitarian partnership.’ Commenting on the
complexity of the situation are: The Head of the Moscow Public Oversight
Commission, Valerii Borshchev, senior researcher for the Russian international
rights protection organisation Human Rights Watch Tanya Lokshina, member of the
Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and director of the Agency for Social
Information(ASI), Elena Topoleva, and executive director of WWF Russia, Petr

USAID supports development of the economy and health service
by providing emergency humanitarian aid, assisting in conflict prevention and
supporting the development of democracy in over 100 countries.

The Russian statement implied that attempts were being
made to influence political processes through the distribution of grants,
including elections at different levels, and within institutions of civil
society. In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised questions
regarding the work of the organisation in the provinces, particularly in the
North Caucasus. Russia also rejected aid recipient status since ‘Russian civil
society has fully matured and does not require… ‘external guidance.’’ However,
our state is open to partnership with USAID in the realisation of humanitarian
aid projects for Third World countries.

In an interview, ASI experts noted that the closing of the
organisation reflected negatively on the development of the rights protection
sphere in Russia. Moreover, the Head of
the Moscow Public Oversight Commission
and member of the Moscow Helsinki
Group Valerii Borshchev remarked
that in our country there is a great scarcity of funding organisations supporting
NGOs concerned with the protection of human rights, the development of the
social sphere and ecological issues. In his opinion, thanks to the twenty years
of USAID work ‘a civil society has formed in Russia’. ‘While receiving help
from the agency, Russian NGOs could work independently’, he explained. Apart
from these factors, the involvement of the American organisation in the
resolution of problems in Russia signifies their recognition on an
international level. Borshchev was certain that the closing of USAID was
directly linked to a change in legislation regarding so-called ‘foreign
agents’. He suggests that this is only the start of the process.

Senior researcher for the Russian Human Rights Watch Tanya
stated that the situation is unprecedented. She explained that the
closing of the agency cut off funding sources for a number of Russian
organisations. She suggests that one of the reasons for the closing of the
agency was its support of GOLOS, the Association for the Protection of the Rights
of Voters. However, Ms Lokshina expressed hope that in the case of GOLOS, there
remained the possibility of receiving grants from the European Commission and
from a number of embassies.

This decision might have been foreseen, remarked
representative of the Commission of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation
on Social Policy, Labour Relations and Quality of Life of Citizens   and director of the ASI Elena Topoleva. ‘In this situation
there are two distinct positions: USAID stated that this was a decision taken
by the government of the Russian Federation, but the Russian presidential press
secretary, Dmitrii Peskov, said that the reason was the organisation’s own wish
to curtail its activities in the Russian Federation’, said Ms Topoleva. In her
opinion, it was not possible to close the programme, which had been functioning
for years, with immediate effect and in such short order. In addition, USAID
programmes are involved in the resolution of health service problems (the
battle against tuberculosis, AIDS and others) and with ecology.

 ‘These are
sufficiently robust programmes aimed at the resolution of important social
problems affecting the interests of many of our citizens. If these are now to
be cut, then not only will organisations and their employees suffer, but the
beneficiaries of these programmes,’ remarked Ms Topoleva. If the decision is
taken (by one or other of the sides), then it must be brought into effect in
such a way that the people and organisations connected with the activity of
USAID do not suffer, she concluded.

Executive director of WWF Russia Petr Gorbuchenko concluded that there was nothing surprising about
the closure of USAID in Russia. He regards this as the consequence of a
tendency outlined after the adoption of the legislation on foreign agents. In
order to avoid the negative consequences of closing one funding organisation,
it is appropriate that NGOs receive several new sources of funding. For
example, the investment of the agency in WWF Russia constitutes only about 1%
of all the fund’s grant-supported programmes.

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