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Kremlin to pull out of Russia-US nuke lockdown program

Russia's plan to end the Nunn-Lugar program, in which the US aided Russia in handling post-Soviet weaponry, is just part of Russia's shifting policy regarding international cooperation.

By Correspondent / October 11, 2012

The Russian Foreign Ministry headquarters seen reflected in a shop window in Moscow on Oct. 4, 2012. This week, the Foreign Ministry gave UNICEF until the end of the year to end operations in Russia, and the Kremlin announced its intention not to renew the Nunn-Lugar program, in which the US aided Russia in locking down its nuclear weapons.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

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Moscow

Russia will halt its participation in the $7 billion, 20-year-old Nunn-Lugar program that aimed to lock down post-Soviet nuclear materials and chemical weapons, in what some experts say is part of a wider reassessment by the Russian government of its cooperation with a wide variety of foreign organizations.

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In recent weeks the Kremlin has accused the US Agency for International Development (USAID) of interference in internal Russian politics and ordered it to shut down operations in the country. This week, the Foreign Ministry announced that it has given the United Nations's children's agency, UNICEF, until year's end to wrap up its programs in Russia and move on to a new model of cooperation. The cases are all different, analysts stress, but the fact that they're happening all at once suggests a wider policy shift is rapidly coming into effect.

One reason for the change is that Russia is no longer the economically impoverished state it was in the 1990s, and is ready to part with some forms of humiliating development assistance that it can easily pay for itself, experts say.

But another reason, spelled out in a foreign policy manifesto issued by then presidential candidate Vladimir Putin last February, is that the Kremlin fears that foreign-based organizations bring instability and political subversion into Russia.

"In the 21st century, when the whole world is locked in financial crisis, Russia is doing relatively well. Why on earth would we still need America to pay for dismantling our nuclear weapons?" says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign policy journal. "Same with USAID and UNICEF. There is simply no obvious case to be made for Russia receiving the kinds of aid that are designed for developing countries."

But Mr. Lukyanov argues the wave of terminations is unfolding right now, in some cases quite abruptly, in part due to domestic political reasons. Mr. Putin, he says, is moving swiftly to fulfill his election program.

"It's all there in Putin's article, about how he sees the outside world as a source of dangerous turbulence," he says.

"In Putin's view, the goal of Russian leadership is to protect the country from harmful outside influences....  He believes that Russia can remain a safe haven in an ocean of political instability, but it is necessary to limit the intrusion of outsiders into our internal processes," he adds.

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