International Law

Russia’s Ejection of USAID and the Protection of Human Rights

In the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, human rights NGOs interfere with his ongoing rule that paints a thin veneer of democracy over a regime that has never trusted the ballot box. Having risen to power as a KGB operative, it's not surprising that President Putin has been the driving force behind new law that creates foreign agent registration requirements for NGOs that receive foreign aid and participate in domestic political activities.

Nor should it be a surprise that Putin's regime has now given the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) its marching orders, evicting the organization from Russia after two decades. This is being spun as an issue of national sovereignty with USAID playing the role of a foreign agent that improperly interferes with Russia's domestic politics. Pravda gloats about the humiliation being inflicted upon the United States.

With mid-October regional elections at stake, Putin has decided that it's time to remove USAID's ability to influence the outcome of those elections.

To be sure, USAID's global work has been to promote democracy and human rights. To further the latter invariably means to address issues within domestic political systems, including supporting aspiring and existing political leaders who are pro-democracy. With USAID being shown the door, other NGOs are apt to mute their objections to Putin's crackdown on political opposition lest they be evicted from Russia too.

No one should expect the Putin regime to reverse course in its efforts to stifle political dissent. Given this reality, international condemnations of USAID's eviction carry no effect.

In the short term, the U.S. State Department should find ways to fill the gap left by USAID with regard to financial support of medical NGOs. Diplomatic and media spotlights should be focused on exposing corruption of the political process and related human rights violations by the Putin regime, including those violations that will occur during the mid-October elections.

Over the long term, the international community should apply a carrot-and-stick approach that encourages pro-democracy efforts within Russia without jeopardizing the safety of those working within the country to restore civil liberties. The Putin regime shall pass and with its demise, there will be a fresh opening for the likes of USAID and its counterparts to work together to simultaneously promote both democracy and human rights for Russia's people without retaliation by the government.

Recommended Reading

Russia Rights Activists Decry USAID Closure, RIA Novosti (Sept. 19, 2012)

Russian Democracy Groups Face Tough Times After USAID Ouster, Voice of America (Sept. 19, 2012)

USAID Shutdown in Russia Will Hurt Civil Society, Voice of America (Sept. 19, 2012)

Russia shows USAID the door. US insulted and humiliated, Pravda (Sept. 20, 2012)

Russia Demands U.S. Agency Halt Work, Wall Street Journal (Sept. 18, 2012)

Russia Demands U.S. End Support of Democracy Groups, NY Times (Sept. 18, 2012)