The Obama administration's "reset" with Russia was already in tatters before this move, and given the Russian leadership's stated preference for Barack Obama over Romney, it is necessary to explore why the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will be forced to wind up its activities in Russia.
Republican Senator John McCain described the move as a poke in Barack Obama's eye. One would have also assumed that the new law passed by the Duma, requiring Russian NGOs that receive foreign contributions to register as foreign agents, provided the Russian government with sufficient leverage and control. What could be better than branding troublesome NGOs as "foreign agents", a description that is tantamount to labeling them spies.
Another curiosity was that the decision appeared to emanate from the Foreign Ministry, rather than from the Justice Ministry. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson zeroed in on the agency's activities in the North Caucasus. Due to the sensitive issue of the region's Muslim population, the Kremlin may have preferred to see the US agency out of the picture.
Golos, the Russian NGO that is a recipient of USAID support and reported on electoral irregularities and fraud in the Duma and the presidential elections was also a particular irritant.
Sergei Markov, one of the regime's senior spokespersons and a vice rector of the Plekhanov Institute, said, on the one hand, that the termination of activities was a result of the basic agreement having elapsed 2 years ago and the failure by the United States to work out a new deal.
Markov, in the same breath, mentioned the political aspect - US meddling in what Russia calls its "near abroad" – the independent states that arose upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. Markov grumbled over US support for "undemocratic regimes" in Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic states.
Another solution suggested by Markov was reciprocity - "Structures like USAID should definitely function not only in Russia, but similar Russian organizations should operate in the United States." He, however, conceded that the ruling elites in his country had not given much attention or resources to create agencies that could apply soft power in the way that the United States does.
Another suggestion called for Russian-American cooperation in third countries, recognizing the fact that Russia, having restored itself to the ranks of the great powers after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was no longer in need of American tutelage.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson explained that the NGO programs were justified during the 1990s following the Soviet Union's collapse, but now they were inappropriate and demeaning "Russian civil society has matured and no longer needs 'external management,'" he said.