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Kremlin Generosity

We’re a pretty cynical bunch over here – always doubting in the motives of the powers that be. But I’m not sure what to make of this new Transitions Online article, which takes aim at Moscow’s recent spate of profligate emergency aid packages and debt forgiveness. The argument goes that these much needed millions for poor countries are just a soft power experiment – a poison pill slipping in along with oil and gas deals to increase Russian influence, and “purchase” new friends. Is it such a negative development that there is competition now in the global game of generosity?

Still, until very recently, it’s been baby steps all the way, and most aid has come in the form of debt relief. Russia has cancelled, or promised to cancel, more than $11 billion in debt from African countries. In 2005 Russia gave $97 million in development assistance, and in 2006, $100 million. Admittedly, that does not include contributions to worldwide health and education programs, but it’s about 3 percent of the aid given by Canada or Spain, countries with comparable GDPs. Alimov said Russia’s target for “the future” is to provide $500 million annually in development assistance, but that seems a long way off. (…) So stay tuned. If Medvedev can negotiate the turf wars between the ministries who want control of the funding, if he can give foreign aid a prominent place in a foreign policy that has rested largely on energy deals, and if he can articulate an attractive set of ideals to go with it, then the world might yet see another – less glowering, more smiling – of Russia’s many faces.