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Kremlin boots USAID for 'interference' in Russian politics (+video)

The Kremlin, already suspicious of US involvement in the street protests against Vladimir Putin, ordered development agency USAID to cease operations in Russia by Oct. 1.

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The controversial aspects of its work, from the Kremlin's point of view, would probably include USAID being a "proud supporter of Russia’s oldest human rights organizations that have been pivotal in promoting support for democratic values throughout Russia."

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Another issue might be the agency's backing for "civil society organizations whose number and influence has grown from 40 registered organizations in 1987 to approximately 300,000 today, not including state-funded public organizations. These organizations contribute to Russia’s economic, political and social life in numerous ways and provide opportunities for citizens to help create better communities and elevate their voices," according to the USAID website.

The authors of the Russian NGO bill singled out as their main targets organizations like the grassroots election-monitoring group Golos, whose thousands of polling station observers were instrumental in detecting and publicizing alleged mass fraud in last December's Duma elections.

Golos has been a major recipient of funds from USAID.

"Things are changing, and you can see that the relationship between the US and Russia is growing constantly worse. In this atmosphere, it was not likely that USAID would be able to continue as before in Russia," says Sergei Strokan, a foreign affairs columnist for the Moscow business daily Kommersant.

"[President Vladimir] Putin made it clear from the beginning of his new term that he was moving away from trying to build close ties with the US, when he simply didn't show up at a G8 meeting that President Obama had specifically moved to accommodate him," says Mr. Strokan.

"In any case, Russia under Putin wants to shift its priorities to the Asia-Pacific region, and so relations with the US will not loom so large in future," he adds. "But Putin has also made clear that he has a long-standing suspicion of the US, and he is certain that it's behind the street protests against him."

In fact, when the protests against alleged electoral fraud first erupted last December, Mr. Putin's first public reaction was to specifically blame Hillary Clinton for inciting them.

"I can't see how USAID would even want to continue working here, when its activity now only brings rebukes and accusations of interference. This is going to be the face of the US-Russia relationship for the foreseeable future, I'm afraid," Strokan says.

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