Vladimir Putin Tells USAID to Beat It (Just Beat It)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/19/2012 12:00:00 PM
Let me preface this blog post by saying I don't want to see no blood, so there's no point in USAID acting like a macho man. It doesn't matter who's wrong or who's right--just beat it.

I believe that I have been fair in criticizing the US development agency USAID on two main grounds. First and foremost, they remain one of the most egregious offenders in the "tied aid" sweepstakes. That is, they only allow aid monies to be spent on American products and services in several categories until now. This practice is most offensive when it comes to food aid. Instead of helping build up the capacity of aid recipient countries to provide food for their populations, self-interested Americans dump their (heavily subsidized) agricultural surplus, adding insult to injury by unjustly undercutting domestic producers.

Second, it is somewhat of a misnomer that this agency is "aiding" other countries. Given that the United States borrows somewhere between 41 to 43 cents for every dollar it spends, the honest truth is that it merely reycles other peoples' money in "aiding" poor countries. Given that China is the United States' largest creditor, for instance, it would not be inaccurate to say that all the Americans are doing is attaching all sorts of strings to money the Chinese give while claiming to aid other developing countries. What a deal. We are so touched by your generosity...to wealthy American farmers, Sammy. [Someone, get me a handkerchief quick...sniff.]

It seems that in today's case though that the Russians have their own particular hang-ups and grievances. Russian President Vladimir Putin famously stating that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the "worst geopolitical catastrophe" of the last century" prefigures resentment of Russia's diminished status. From being a (nominal) superpower less than a quarter of a century ago, it became a mere developing nation. Adding to the humiliation, it became an aid recipient whereas it was once competing with the US for global influence by also providing aid. So, the loss of face from the US providing it aid was too much to bear. Not exactly strapped for cash in this day and age when commodities are dear, we get this result:
Matthew Rojanksy, an expert on Russia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in an e-mail that he thought this decision had been brewing for a while. “Russian authorities have made clear for the better part of a decade that they see Russia as a great power, and a provider of assistance, not a recipient,” he wrote. “Add to that tension over the pre- and post-election protests, which the Kremlin alleges were orchestrated by U.S.-funded NGOs, plus the deep disagreement over U.S. democracy promotion activities in the Middle East, and you can see why this decision may have come now.”
And so there's the not-insignificant matter of democracy promotion which has messed up USAID in places like Egypt. Logically, I believe that aid agencies should concern themselves more with helping alleviate poverty than promoting democracy since there is no direct relationship between the two. However, with USAID in Russia, the distinction has not always been that clear. With the Kremlin becoming increasingly antsy about the matter, it was probably only a matter of time before Russia gave it the ol' heave-ho:
USAID, which has been working in Russia since shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, had budgeted $49.47 million for Russian programs for fiscal 2012, with 59 percent of that directed for programs supporting democracy and civil society, 37 percent designated for health projects and 4 percent for environmental programs. It had 13 American employees, supported by Russian staffers.
The fire's in Putin's eyes and his words are really clear, so beat it--just beat it.