, WASHINGTON, Sep 18 – Russia has booted the US aid agency out of the country, closing down its decades-old support for pro-democracy and rights projects, US officials said on Tuesday, in a new sign of tense ties with Moscow.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has spent $2.7 billion in Russia on projects aimed at promoting a wide range of human rights and civil society programs.
An annual budget of around $50 million also went towards funding the fight against AIDS and tuberculosis, as well as protecting wildlife and combating people trafficking.
Announcing Moscow’s decision to pull the plug on USAID activities, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was “extremely proud of what USAID has accomplished in Russia over the last 20 years.”
“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,” she said.
A senior US official, who asked not to be named, said: “We regret this decision by the Russian government… But that does not mean we have changed our policy of supporting the kind of activities USAID has been supporting.”
Russia told the United States on September 12 it was ending the programs. While Nuland would not be drawn on the reasons for Moscow’s decision, she said it was more “their sense that they don’t need this anymore.”
Ties between the two former Cold War foes have worsened since US President Barack Obama famously reset ties with Moscow when he came to office in 2009.
In recent months since returning to office as president, Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized Washington, accusing it of fomenting unrest through its support for Russian non-governmental organizations.
Moscow has also stirred Western and Arab world anger by vetoing three UN Security Council resolution providing sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the 18-month conflict.