Moscow-based Center for Strategic Research President Mikhail Dmitriev told reporters today that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development from his country was based on an effort to appeal to the Russian public’s belief that foreign countries are trying to undermine their nation’s sovereignty.
A majority of Russians, Dmitriev said during a conference call, hold the view that foreign powers are interfering in Russian domestic politics, and that there is a “general hostility towards foreign powers.”
“Putin is trying now to …compensate for a falling domestic popularity and a [failure] of domestic economic, social and political policies by emphasizing on campaigning against these perceived foreign threats,” Dmitriev said.
Dmitriev believes that if Putin’s popularity continues to fall, “it will be a huge challenge for [Putin] to keep political control.”
It would appear that as the Kremlin looks to crack down on its population’s small yet vocal protest movement, the straw men for now have become NGO’s.
University of California, Los Angeles political science professor and Russian scholar Daniel Treisman provided more insight on the reasoning behind the Russian government’s latest exercise of anti-foreign sentiment.
“Their strategy is to…intimidate both members of the opposition and also to make sure their own supporters remain in line,” Treisman said.
The Kremlin’s political tactics run the gamut from making NGO’s register as foreign agents to creating new laws on slander and treason.
“The impression is that its not even a coordinated campaign by the Kremlin,” Treisman said. “It’s more that they have given a hunting license to people in the Duma from the United Russia Party, and to others to come up with ways to make life more difficult for the opposition and for those who might think about publicly opposing Putin at this point.
“The USAID closing really fits into this pattern in a sense, given that part of the objective of USAID was to support democracy in Russia, and there are clear indications that Putin does not have an interest at this point in promoting the democratization [of Russia].”
USAID’s website, meanwhile, boasts of its accomplishments in Russia.
“Over the past two decades, USAID has provided assistance that has helped the Russian people improve public health and combat infectious diseases, protect the environment, develop a stronger civil society, and modernize their economy. As Russia has grown into a middle income country, the nature of USAID’s work has evolved beyond primarily providing technical assistance with a large focus on collaboration. By 2012, the majority of USAID’s engagement revolved around the promotion of an open and innovative society in Russia and a strengthened partnership between the U.S. and Russia.”