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You're reading: Russia accuses USAID of trying to sway elections

MOSCOW — Russia on Wednesday explained its decision to put an end to the U.S. Agency for International Development's two decades of work in Russia by saying the U.S. government agency was using its money to influence elections.

U.S. State Department announced Tuesday that Russia has demanded USAID
leave the country, a culmination of years of resentment over what Moscow
sees as American interference aimed at undermining President Vladimir
Putin’s hold on power.

“We are talking about attempts through the
issuing of grants to affect the course of political processes, including
elections on various levels, and institutions of civil society,”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

Nearly 60
percent of the aid agency’s $50 million annual budget this year has been
allocated for the promotion of democracy and civil society in Russia.
Some of this money has gone to support Russia’s only independent
election monitoring group, Golos, which fielded thousands of observers
in last winter’s parliamentary and presidential elections, and compiled
reports of widespread vote fraud in support of Putin’s party.

had accused Western governments of trying to influence the December
parliamentary vote through their grant recipients, and a state-owned
television channel directly denounced Golos, showing suitcases full of
dollars that the group supposedly had received. After those elections
set off an unprecedented wave of protests, Putin accused the
demonstrators of being in the pay of Washington.

“All of this is
part of a series of moves aimed at toughening policy toward protests,
the Internet, NGOs and freedom of speech,” said Grigory Melkonyants, the
deputy director of Golos. “The people who make these decisions intend
to crack down on dissent and criticism in a way that is as harsh as
possible. It is frightening even to think about what may happen

Since Putin returned to the presidency in May, the
Kremlin has taken a tougher stance against the opposition and Russia’s
nascent civil society. Non-governmental organizations that receive
foreign funding and engage in vaguely defined political activity must
now register as “foreign agents,” which is intended to destroy their
credibility among Russians.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman
Victoria Nuland said Tuesday her government is proud of what USAID has
done in Russia, including fighting AIDS and tuberculosis, helping
orphans and victims of trafficking, and improving the protection of
wildlife and the environment. She said the U.S. hopes that Russia will
now take responsibility for such initiatives.

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