MOSCOW - Russia insisted Thursday that the expulsion of US development agency USAID should not have come as any surprise to the United States and said it regretted that the decision had caused a scandal.
“While understanding the sensitivity of this question for the US side, we did everything in a routine as partners, avoiding publicity,” foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said at a briefing. Russia on Wednesday said it had given the US Agency for International Development until October 1 to halt its work because it was meddling in domestic politics, in a move that Washington branded “regrettable”. “Unfortunately it happened that our partners went in a little bit different direction and represented the case in such a way as if it had been a surprise for them,” Lukashevich said. “In principle everyone understood and knew about this problem.” Lukashevich listed discussions between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June and September at which he said Russia had demanded USAID leave by October 1. “I regret it took such forms, even sometimes of an aggressive media campaign, since it is a question concerning our bilateral relations,” he said. Representatives of USAID “through injections of grants crossed a red line and we paid serious attention to this,” he said. “Any self-respecting civil society at some stage realises that living only on foreign grants is impossible. “Here I see no drama,” he said, while criticising US media for “absolutely artificially” representing the situation as if Russia was “starting to pursue someone, foreign non-governmental structures and so on.
“That absolutely does not correspond to reality,” he said. More than half of USAID’s annual budget in Russia had been spent on democracy and civil society programmes, as well as a substantial chunk on health projects. The move to expel the agency may harm the operations of groups that rely on its funding, including the vote monitor Golos that found irregularities in recent polls. The US has denied interfering in Russia’s election process.