Russia’s ruling party received funds “over the years” from a U.S. development aid mission ordered to close by Moscow this week over allegations it was attempting to influence election results, a U.S. State Department spokesperson has said.
“I was asked the question yesterday as to whether President [Vladimir] Putin’s party, United Russia, has ever availed itself of the programming that the United States offers through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute,” spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
“Our understanding is that United Russia has participated in some of IRI and NDI’s programs over the years,” Nuland said, without specifying the programs.
Putin headed United Russia until late last year, when he handed over stewardship of the party to current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia said on Tuesday that USAID, which funds pro-democracy and human rights groups that have irked the Kremlin, would have to close its offices by October 1. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Wednesday the U.S. government agency was using its resources to “affect the course” of elections.
USAID, which operates in more than 100 countries, has operated in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its array of social programs have targeted pressing public health issues like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
But the bulk of the agency’s annual $50-million has gone to human rights and civic organizations, including the election watchdog Golos, which monitors electoral violations.
Putin has frequently accused Washington of backing the unprecedented protests against his rule that broke out after the disputed December 2011 parliamentary polls and has also compared organizations such as Golos to “Judas.”
The move comes shortly after the introduction of a controversial new law forcing NGOs who engage in politics and receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”
The decision to close the USAID mission was slammed by Russian rights activists.
“This is just part of an obvious general tendency to limit the activities of civil society,” Svetlana Gannushkina, a former member of the Kremlin’s human rights council, told RIA Novosti on Wednesday. “My initial reaction was ‘who’s next?’”
Gannushkina also said rights groups were unable to obtain funding from Russian businesses, as they were “afraid” of the possible consequences of involvement with pro-democracy organizations.