US aims to fund NGOs for ‘strong democracy’ in Russia

US aims to fund NGOs for ‘strong democracy’ in Russia

WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
US aims to fund NGOs for ‘strong democracy’ in Russia

Russian Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin accuses the US of funding the mass street protests. AFP photo

The United States said April 3 that it sought to strengthen democracy and civil society in Russia after Moscow charged that U.S. funding to groups in the country was posing a problem in relations.

The State Department has proposed to set up a $50 million fund that would support non-governmental groups which promote human rights and accountability in Russia, where Vladimir Putin is preparing for a third term as president.

“This is designed to support a vibrant civil society in Russia and to allow us to work with those Russian NGOs who want to work with us,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. The fund would allow the groups “to develop their skills and their voice and their ability to represent the aspirations of Russians to increasingly deepen and strengthen their democracy,” Nuland said. Putin has repeatedly accused Washington of bankrolling the mass street protests that first rose against his 12-year domination of Russia three months ago -- a charge that U.S. officials firmly deny. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said April 3 that Moscow has raised the issue “repeatedly” with U.S. officials and had still not received a clear assurance about the funding’s ultimate aims. “This activity is reaching a scale that is turning into a problem in our relations,” Ryabkov said.

The democracy fund needs approval from the U.S. Congress. The money would come from the liquidated U.S.-Russia Investment Fund, which was set up in 1995 to promote a free market economy in the former communist nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview on April 1 with CNN, said that the Russian people were “incredibly talented” and that the United States wanted to give them “a real stake in the future there.” “That has nothing to do with us. It has to do everything with the Russian people themselves,” she said of the proposed $50 million fund.