The decision of the Putin regime to end two decades of work by the U.S. Agency for International Development in Russia reflects its determination to disable the growing protest movement without confronting it directly.
AID’s budget for Russia was $50 million this year, with 60 percent allocated for the promotion of democracy and civil society. Its programs worked to combat the political passivity that has long been the invisible ally of Russian dictators. Some of the money was used to support Golos, Russia’s only independent election-monitoring group, which reported massive falsification in the recent parliamentary and presidential elections. Golos’s reports helped motivate the growing Russian political opposition.
The end of USAID programs in Russia, in combination with a recent law that requires that organizations receiving foreign grants register as foreign agents, now deprives civil society of an important source of support.
During his campaign for a new presidential term, Putin was aided most of all by the fear that his defeat would lead to instability. This tactic was effective because many Russians lack political experience and cannot imagine the possibility of defending their rights. Independent civil-society organizations, by virtue of their existence, demonstrate that politics organized from below, based on free information and without the control of the regime, is possible. This was the reason that — as Putin’s position became increasingly unstable — the activities of USAID in Russia had to go.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His latest book, It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, is due out next month in paperback from the Yale University Press.