Russia scraps anti-crime deal with the US
Russia pulled out of an anti-crime accord with the United States on Wednesday in a move the U.S. called "self-defeating," the latest sign of rising tensions between Moscow and Washington.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an order to scrap the 10-year-old agreement "because it was no longer relevant," his office said.
The agreement covered fighting terrorism, corruption and cross-border crimes such as drug smuggling and human trafficking.
Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said the decision reflected Russia's ability to manage its affairs without outside help.
"Russia is changing the format of its relations with the U.S.," he tweeted. "We are ending our dependence on `the country No. 1.'"
The Foreign Ministry expressed gratitude to the U.S. for providing $12 million in aid for crime-fighting projects under the accord, but said Moscow no longer needs such assistance.
"From a recipient of Western aid for anti-crime projects, Russia has turned into a donor for such programs in Central Asian nations and Afghanistan," it said in a statement, adding that Moscow was ready to continue cooperation with the U.S. in fighting crime, including drug-trafficking.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed regret about the Russian move, saying that the agreement provided a framework for "very fruitful cooperation with Russia on rule of law, counter-corruption efforts, preventing trafficking in persons, counter-narcotics and strengthening our mutual legal assistance cooperation.
"From our perspective," Nuland said, the decision is "self-defeating because most of the work we were doing under this agreement was also involved in training Russians, training them on trafficking in persons interdiction, training them in implementation of the mutual legal assistance treaty that we have, training them in implementation of their own new criminal procedures code - which was something that they sought our help on."
The agreement is just one of several bilateral cooperation deals that Moscow has decided to abandon. Last year, Russia expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development and also warned it wouldn't extend the Nunn-Lugar program helping it dismantle nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons stockpiles.
On Friday, the U.S. withdrew from a joint civil society group.
President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" relations with Russia have met a markedly colder wind from the Kremlin since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in May. Faced with unprecedented street protests against his 12-year rule, Putin accused the U.S. State Department of staging the protests in order to weaken Russia.
After Putin's inauguration, the Kremlin-controlled parliament then quickly rubber-stamped a series of laws imposing new restrictions in an apparent bid to curb American influence in Russia. Non-governmental organizations funded from abroad were required to register as "foreign agents," a term intended to ruin their credibility among Russians for whom the term sounds synonymous to spies. The Russian definition of treason was also expanded to include potentially any contact with a foreign organization.
Two U.S.-based NGOs have closed their Russian offices in response to the new laws. The business daily Kommersant reported Wednesday that the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which ran programs championing democratic rights, moved their staff to Lithuania after Russian security officials threatened to prosecute them under the new treason law.
Amnesty International Russia's director, Sergei Nikitin, wrote on his blog Wednesday that the closures "show the stability of the general trend: the pressure on civil society in Russia continues."
After Congress passed a law introducing sanctions against Russian officials involved in human rights abuses, Russia responded by banning all adoptions of Russian orphans by Americans. The country's top investigative agency is also investigating a sexual abuse case against American parents already convicted in the U.S. of abusing their adopted Russian child but given suspended sentences.
Lawmakers in the Kremlin-controlled lower house have also rushed to propose such measures as banning English phrases from Russian and limiting marriages between Russian officials and foreigners.
Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told NPR on Wednesday that the Russian adoption ban was "tragic" and the decision to expel USAID "really hurts the Russian people."
Bradley Klapper in Washington and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.