Diplomats had a good time three years ago when Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a “mock reset button” to symbolize U.S. hopes to improve relations with Moscow. The big news at that time was that the “peregruzka” label on the button that was intended to mean “reset” instead translated to “overcharged” or “overloaded.” The presentation of the button was said to have been in response to one of Vice President Biden’s gaffes. This one had something to do with the new administration wanting to reset ties with Russia after years of friction.
The recent termination of a U.S. aid organization’s activities by the Kremlin represents an ominous reset in relations. The September 20, 2012 English version of Pravda by Oleg Artyukov reported that the “…decision to terminate the activity of the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, in Russia has expectedly caused a great deal of noise. Human rights advocates are in shock…” The Russian Foreign Minister said the decision to shut down the agency was made “…due to attempts of the agency to influence political processes, civil society institutions, and elections…”
The agency had distributed $2.7 billion in Russia since 1992. A State Department spokeswoman said, “…not very confidently…” that a third of the money went to “…development of democracy.” A New York Times article by David M. Heszenhorn published in the September 23, 2012 Denver Post said the money funded “…programs touching nearly every facet of society in the former communist state — fighting the spread of tuberculosis and HIV, developing judicial systems and training lawyers and judges, promoting child welfare, job readiness, youth engagement, human rights and democracy, even helping modernize the electric grid.”
It is apparent there is justification for the Russian accusation that the agency was being used to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs in addition to all the positive activities. An association that monitors elections in Russia called “The Voice” put out a statement that “The hastiness and sudden nature of this decision is apparently related to the elections on October 14.” There are continuing protests about that election, and Vladimir Putin has sent another warning to the protestors.
The U.S. media coverage of the story is perhaps as interesting as the story itself. The story was published on page 23A of the Sunday Denver Post, and I found little else about it except on the English Pravda site. Senator John McCain described the closure of the USAID mission as “an insult to the United States and a finger in the eye of the Obama Administration.” Is it possible the U.S. media doesn’t want to publish news of a major setback to Mr. Obama’s foreign policies when there is an election coming up?