The State Department last week announced that Moscow has moved to evict USAID from Russia after two decades of work inside the country and nearly $3 billion spent in total aid. A State Department spokeswoman almost justified the closure of USAID’s mission in Russia, which she described as “a sovereign nation’s decision.” When the Obama administration asked Moscow to extend the deadline for USAID’s exit from October 1 until May 2013, the Kremlin quickly rebuffed its request. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich added that, “We proceed from the assumption that this decision by a sovereign state should be implemented in full measure.”
Let’s ignore the fact that the State Department and Russian Foreign Ministry seem to share talking points. The real issue here concerns dates — and not just the October 1 deadline. The White House claims that it first learned about Moscow’s decision when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vladivostok earlier this month. Not so says the Russian Foreign Ministry. Mr. Lukashevich is baffled by the administration’s supposed surprise. He insists that Secretary Clinton was informed of the Kremlin’s verdict by her Russian counterpart in late June.
If true, this raises further — and much more serious — questions about how the administration has handled USAID’s eviction. Why wasn’t Russia’s decision publicized last June? In an attempt to ease the pain of the election monitors, AIDS clinics, child-welfare organizations and other groups that USAID supports, why wasn’t an orderly transition plan conceived and put in place? Instead, as a result of the administration’s hushed private capitulation since June, we now find ourselves having to plead with an increasingly authoritarian Vladimir Putin for a six to seven month extension. But why, more broadly, has it come to this?
It’s pretty simple — because the expulsion of USAID runs counter to President Obama’s narrative of a successful “reset” policy. At this point, his Russia policy amounts to reset at any cost. Never mind the facts. Never mind the reality of Russia’s behavior both internally and externally. When that reality contradicts its reset narrative the administration will shamelessly sweep it under the carpet.
— Daniel Vajdic is a researcher in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).