The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has funded Russian non-governmental organizations, stops its operations in Russia from Monday.
Russia said in September that USAID, which provided financing for pro-democracy and human rights groups that have irked the Kremlin, would have to close its offices in the country by October 1. President Vladimir Putin said the mission had been meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
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. Human rights activists have cried foul over the closure of USAID’s Russian offices saying small regional NGOs would suffer most.
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, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last month.
Since Vladimir Putin’s reelection as president, the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has given the green light to several laws that Russian civil society activists claim are intended to dampen dissent and provoke fear among citizens who have become increasingly active in recent months.
These laws range from a substantial hike in protest-related fines to the law requiring homegrown NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding and engage in political activity.