After 22 years, a space for exchange between the people and cultures of Russia and the United States has been cut off by the Russian government.
Russians interested in learning about U.S. cultural life will no longer be able to do so at the dedicated facility housing the U.S. Embassy’s American Center in Moscow. The state-controlled library that housed the Center terminated the formal agreement for U.S. Embassy support, informing the Embassy it will replace the American Director and will take full control of all Center activities.
In a statement, U.S. Ambassador John Tefft called the move to end over 22 years of U.S. - Russia cooperation at the American Center unfortunate. “The American Center,” he wrote, “has built deep and strong connections between the people and cultures of Russia and the United States. The Center served as a focal point of American culture, history and literature in Russia’s capital, and also hosted countless high level American visitors as speakers. ... In the last year alone, the American Center hosted over 400 cultural and educational activities, and welcomed over 50,000 visitors.”
“These latest unilateral steps further call into question the Russian government’s commitment to maintaining people-to people ties between the Russian and American people, which continued even during the Cold War and other complicated moments in our countries’ long history,” said Ambassador Tefft. He also pointed out that the decision to close the Center comes nearly one year after Russian authorities cancelled the largest U.S.-Russian educational exchange program – the Future Leaders Exchange, or FLEX, program.
The move to close the American Center looks to be part of an ongoing campaign by the authorities to shrink the space for civil society in Russia, and isolate its citizens from the outside world. Earlier this year, Moscow passed a law that seeks to ban the activities of so-called “undesirable foreign or international organizations.”
Another law was passed in 2012 requiring any group in Russia that receives international funding to register as a “foreign agent,” an expression which, in Russia, stigmatizes such organizations.
Despite this setback, the United States will continue to support the free exchange of ideas and free expression in Russia. “Democracy,” as Secretary of State John Kerry said recently, “allows a country to benefit from the full energy and talent of its citizens, and from the progress and innovation that the unconstrained flow of ideas can create.”