The End of USAID in Russia Exacerbates US-Russia Tensions

Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong Analysis,
Ottawa, Canada
USAID is an NGO, NGOs are good. USAID promotes democracy, democracy is good. Putin is kicking it out of Russia, Putin is bad. Throw in something about Syria or Georgia (well, perhaps not Georgia, after the prison revelations) and you’re done. Simple story, writes itself. Journalism 101.
But let’s go a little deeper than the surface browsing practised by the Western MSM. USAID is funded by the US State Department and as the proverb has it: “he who pays the piper calls the tune”. (Russians have the exact equivalent of this English proverb “Кто платит, тот и заказывает музыку”). What tune might that be?
Item. Two days after the Duma election – before the results were fully in, US Secretary of State Clinton called for a “full investigation” of accusations of irregularities and expressed ”our serious concerns about the conduct of the election”.
Item. The “irregularities” had been helpfully pointed out by Golos, the so-called independent Russian election monitor. It receives much of its funding from USAID. Maybe it had some interesting communications with US officials with the suggestion of payment for the “correct” results.
Item., the supposed home-grown Russian protest group, appears to have come into existence last October and gives its address as Bellevue, WA 98007 USA. 
Item. Pussy Riot has been declared “prisoners of conscience, sentenced solely for the peaceful expression of their views” by Amnesty International. The new Executive Director of the US branch (appointed in January) is Suzanne Nossel. She worked at the US State Department and in the Clinton Administration. She proudly states that she is “the author of a 2004 article in Foreign Affairs magazine entitled ‘Smart Power’ and coined the term that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made a defining feature of U.S. foreign policy”. In the article she opined “Unlike conservatives, who rely on military power as the main tool of statecraft, liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important.” Apparently Pussy Riot fits into this grand design of “the spread of American values”.
So, the tune that is being paid for seems rather obvious: Putin’s election and that of his supporting party is illegitimate; he is creating new “prisoners of conscience”; honest Russians, on their own initiative, are protesting this.
But United Russia’s electoral results were those predicted by many opinion polls over some time, actually a whisker worse: (William of Ockham would suggest that if you are fixing election results, you do not fix them so that your support party does worse). Putin’s victory accorded with numerous opinion polls. Which is very strong prima facie evidence of their legitimacy. (Unless one throws out all opinion polling in Russia in which case the perennial Number Two – the Communists – with a backup from Zhirinovskiy’s party – actually won. Which would be less to Washington’s taste. But who’s being logical here?)
So, what then is the “democracy” that USAID, this not very non-governmental organisation, is pushing? It appears to be one without Putin. Whether Washington likes it or not, Putin is supported by many more Russians than practically any Western leader is by his population. Washington evidently does not like it; but it’s not really “democracy” to try and undermine him, is it? It’s more “the spread of American values” or, perhaps, American interests, isn’t it?
It will be interesting to watch what happens to the Russian opposition. I expect the Communists and super-nationalists to continue – I believe them to be Russian-rooted and Russian-funded. But what will become of Navalniy, Kasparov, Kasyanov and all the other oppositionists so beloved of Western capitals? Will they actually prove to have any Russian funding and support?
I believe the Russians are right on their imitation of the US FARA Act. I believe that, in a “democratic” country (that word again), citizens have a right to know whose money is trying to influence their opinions. The absence of USAID’s money may clarify the situation in Russia.