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
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.
Rights Activists Decry USAID Closure, RIA Novosti (Sept. 19, 2012)
Democracy Groups Face Tough Times After USAID Ouster, Voice of America
(Sept. 19, 2012)
Shutdown in Russia Will Hurt Civil Society, Voice of America (Sept. 19,
shows USAID the door. US insulted and humiliated, Pravda (Sept. 20, 2012)
Demands U.S. Agency Halt Work, Wall Street Journal (Sept. 18, 2012)
Demands U.S. End Support of Democracy Groups, NY Times (Sept. 18, 2012)