Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Western donors pumped billions of dollars in aid money to Russia — part and parcel of their efforts to prop up their former Cold War rival’s fragile transition to a free market economy. Between 1995 and 2004, foreign assistance to Russia averaged $1.3 billion, making the country one of the biggest aid recipients in the world.
In the 2000s, however, aid flows to Russia began to fall dramatically just as the once superpower, buoyed by rising oil and gas revenues, regained some measure of political and economic clout. The Russian government’s increasingly dismissive posture toward the West and creeping authoritarian tendencies under President Vladimir Putin only hastened the donor exit.
In the case of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the pullback from Russia wasn’t even voluntary. The Russian government expelled the agency, which was a major funder of democracy and human rights groups, a little over two years ago.
“I think the Russian government is definitely interested in enhancing Russia’s sovereignty and the moment that at any program operating in Russia starts to feel like a liability in terms of Russia’s image — that it’s in control — that’s when that program is probably in danger of being discontinued,” explained Patty Gray, a professor from the National University of Ireland who has studied Russia’s international cooperation extensively.