Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.S. Quits Civil Society Joint Forum with Russia

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.S. Quits Civil Society Joint Forum with Russia

Article excerpt

The United States is withdrawing from a bilateral working group in answer to Russia's recent crackdown on such groups and accusations that the United States is stirring up dissent.

The United States is withdrawing from a bilateral Russian- American working group on civil society, a three-year-old project that embodied the spirit of the "reset" between Washington and Moscow, in answer to Russia's recent crackdown on civil society groups.

The "civil society working group" was one of 20 groups convened in 2009 as part of Washington's concerted push to repair relations with the Kremlin. The two countries embarked on a series of bilateral projects, including cooperation on Iran and Afghanistan, and the signing of a new nuclear treaty.

But relations between the two governments have come under increasing strain over the last year, as Vladimir V. Putin returned to the presidency accusing U.S. officials of stirring up dissent in Russia. Nonprofit groups have come under particular pressure, as lawmakers passed new laws severely restricting foreign financing, requiring them to register as "foreign agents," and expanding the definition of high treason to include assisting foreign organizations.

On Friday, Thomas O. Melia, the deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said in a statement that the decision to withdraw from the civil society working group was made "in light of recent steps taken by the Russian government to impose restrictions on civil society."

Mr. Melia said that the group was a bilateral project "designed to foster the development of civil society," and that new restrictions imposed in recent months "called into serious question whether maintaining that mechanism was either useful or appropriate," according to a copy of the statement, provided by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The fraying of the bilateral cooperation escalated during political campaigns in both countries and accelerated with a recent legislative tit for tat. …

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