By Johnathan Earis
21 September 2012

United Russia participated in U.S. government funded development program, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Thursday, adding another layer to a growing spat that began earlier this week with Russia’s decision to kick out the U.S. Agency for International Development.

If confirmed, the allegation could be deeply embarrassing to the ruling party, whose members have often accused government critics of being bankrolled by Washington.

“Our understanding is that United Russia has participated in some of IRI and NDI’s programs over the years. And as I said to you, IRI and NDI offer these programs to any party in Russia that wants to take advantage of it,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing, according to a transcript posted on the State Department’s website.

The International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), U.S. government-supported NGOs, offer grants to civil society organizations in Russia and elsewhere.

Nuland did not mention any specific instances of United Russia accepting U.S. funds, and high-ranking United Russia officials were quick to condemn the charge as groundless retaliation.

But veteran opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday published a list of eight instances dating back to 2006 in which United Russia members appear to have accepted U.S. Funds, mostly to attend IRI-funded training sessions and forums.

On one such occasion, in May 2010, IRI paid for United Russia youth leader Yulia Yakovenko’s flight and hotel room as part of an IRI training program for female political leaders, Nemstov wrote on his blog.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy announced that Russia was pulling the plug on USAID, the U.S. Government’s main vehicle for funding Russia civil-society NGOs. The Foreign Ministry said USAID had overstepped its mandate by attempting to influence internal Russian affairs.

USAID spent $54.2 million in Russia in 2011, almost half of which ($22.2 million) went to projects related to human rights, democracy and governance, according to official data.

Several USAID-backed groups, including elections monitor Golos and human rights watchdog Memorial, are among the government’s fiercest critics.

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