U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Washington does not direct the actions of Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. assistance.
Replying to a letter by veteran Russian rights advocate Lev Ponomaryov, Clinton said the United States supported the "important efforts" of NGOs to protect and advance human rights in Russia.
"In response to your specific question regarding whether NGO recipients of U.S. grants are 'agents' of the U.S. government, let me state categorically that we do not dictate your goals or direct your actions, nor do we have any desire to do so," Clinton wrote.
Clinton's letter comes two months after President Vladimir Putin signed into law a controversial bill which forces foreign-funded NGOs involved in politics to declare themselves "foreign agents."
Kremlin officials have repeatedly claimed that Washington is using NGOs in Russia as cover to bring about political change. Putin once famously called Russian NGOs involved in politics "jackals."
But Ponomaryov, head of the For Human Rights organization, denied "taking orders from the State Department." However, he freely admits to receiving funding from abroad, saying the Kremlin "discourages businessmen in Russia to give money to NGOs."
In an interview with RIA Novosti, Ponomaryov said he had written his original letter to the U.S. State Department in order to "show the absurdity" of the new legislation.
"An ideological battle is on," he said. "It was important to raise awareness of this stupid law."