The operations of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) were not aimed at influencing the results of Russian elections, the U.S. State Department said.
“We completely reject the notion that our support for civil society, democracy, human rights in any way interferes with elections, whether in Russia or anywhere else in the world,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday.
“We do these programs all over the world. We are evenhanded as to access to the resources for political parties, et cetera,” Nuland told reporters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday Moscow told USAID to cease its activity in Russia from October 1 because the agency had "tried to affect the course of the political process in the country by its use of grants." Rights advocates have expressed concerns over USAID’s closure.
Nuland expressed her regret at Russia’s move.
“In addition to civil society support… U.S. support went to help Russia, and the Russian people in particular, manage health problems like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, to help Russia improve environmental standards, to protect wildlife, things that are of greater good not only to the Russian people, but also to the region and to the world,” she said.
“And it is regrettable that the Russian people are not going to be able to benefit from the support that the American people are sending their way in these areas of health, environment, et cetera,” the spokeswoman said.
“With regard to our support for civil society, for democracy, for human rights, for rule of law, we will continue to work with those Russians in civil society who want to work with us,” she said, adding that her country is “committed to stay on the side of those who want to see a more democratic, more just Russia.”
Nuland also said that when the United States offers democracy programs around in the world, it is “evenhanded as to access to them for any political party that wants to take advantage of them.”
Senior Russian officials have portrayed some of USAID programs - such as those funding election monitoring and human rights groups critical of the Kremlin - as attempts by a foreign nation to undermine Russia’s sovereignty.
USAID, which operates in more than 100 countries, has been active in Russia over the past two decades. Its array of social programs have targeted issues such as at-risk youth and pressing public health issues like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
But the agency has also funded civic organizations that have rankled Russian officials, including the election watchdog Golos, whose monitors have catalogued violations in local and federal elections in recent years.
The United States has repeatedly denied that these programs are aimed at interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs.
The stopping of USAID’s operations in Russia does not mean an end to the much-heralded reset between Washington and Moscow, Nuland said on Tuesday.