Freedom House Slams USG Decision to Close USAID in Moscow

Washington

Freedom House condemns the U.S. government’s decision to shut down the activities of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Russia. The move was made after the Russian government recently asked that USAID “cease activities” by October 1, 2012, according to a senior U.S. official.

“For USAID to up and leave Russia simply because Vladimir Putin asked us to do so is a betrayal of our decades-long support not only for grassroots human rights defenders, civil society, and development of the rule of law in Russia but also for assistance in areas like improving public health and the environment,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “This decision sets a dangerous precedent and suggests that U.S. support for civil society ends when repressive governments apply pressure.”

The move is likely  a demoralizing and devastating blow to an increasingly embattled Russian civil society and will more likely encourage the Russian government’s hardline approach to dealing with the wave of civil activism that emerged following the fraudulent December 2011 parliamentary and March 2012 presidential elections. Since the elections, large demonstrations not seen in Russia since the 1990s swept the country and began to catalyze a movement for democratic rights. In response, the Kremlin has introduced tougher restrictions, including introducing an Internet blacklist, the recriminalization of libel, large new fines for those who violate vague and arbitrary rules on public demonstrations, and an effort to tar NGOs that receive grants from international sources as “foreign agents.”

USAID currently has approximately 70 staff members in Russia, most, if not all, of whom are expected to be recalled. One obvious question is whether the U.S. government will respond to what is essentially USAID employees being forced out of the country.

“What is most disappointing about this decision is that it appears the U.S. government didn’t push back on the Russian government’s request and force President Putin to publicly kick out USAID,” Kramer added.  “Just weeks after Secretary Clinton sent a letter to two prominent Russian human rights organizations lauding their work and confirming U.S. support for them, this decision can be spun no other way: caving in to a repressive government.  We urge the Obama Administration to revisit this decision immediately.”

Russia is rated Not Free in the 2012 editions of Freedom House’s Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Press surveys and Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net 2011 survey.

For more information, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Russia

Nations in Transit 2012: Russia

Freedom of the Press 2011: Russia

Freedom on the Net 2011: Russia

Blog: Freedom at Issue

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhousedc) and Instagram. Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our RSS feedsnewsletter and our blog.

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