Russia calls US funding of democracy a ‘problem’

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MOSCOW – Russia said Tuesday that continued US funding of groups supporting the spread of democracy in the country was turning into a problem in advance of Vladimir Putin’s return for a third Kremlin term.
Putin has repeatedly accused Washington of using the programme to bankroll the mass street protests that first rose against his 12-year domination of Russia three months ago — a charge that US officials firmly deny.
But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow continued to raise the issue “repeatedly” with US officials and had still not received a clear assurance about the funding’s ultimate aimes.
“This activity is reaching a scale that is turning into a problem in our relations,” Ryabkov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency.
“We really are concerned that Washington is funding certain groups and movements in Russia” opposed to Putin’s rule.
Pro-democracy groups in Russia complained of fierce intimidation from the authorities during Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency.
They claimed to enjoy broader freedoms under President Dmitry Medvedev and voiced immediate fears about their future upon Putin’s September announcement that he intended to return to the Kremlin for a newly extended six-year term.
The ex-KGB agent used one of his first major campaign speeches to accuse Washington of funding the nascent opposition movement — a charge other Russian officials and media outlets began repeating in subsequent weeks.
The claims led to a probe into the activities of the Western-funded Russian election monitoring group Golos and the watchdog’s eventual expulsion from its Moscow premises.
Ryabkov said US President Barack Obama had recently earmarked $50 million in new funding for Russian non-governmental organisations involved in various opposition work.

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