Russia will have an overseas aid agency (Really. Someday.)

Russia has been making moves toward establishing itself on a global scale as a donor of overseas aid and a partner in international development cooperation for several years, especially since it published its “Concept on Russia’s Participation in International Development Assistance” in 2007.  But these moves have always begged the question: Where’s your aid agency, your RUSSAID (as some in Russia’s NGO circles have already taken to putting it)?

After some confusion in which many thought the agency Rossotrudnichestvo was filling that role, an announcement last August by Andrei Bokarev, head of the Department of International Financial Relations in the Russian Ministry of Finance, seemed to put the matter to rest. Bokarev announced unequivocally that there would indeed be a new agency established, called the Russian Agency for International Development (there’s your RUSSAID, although in Russian it works out as РАМР – Российское Агентство Международного Развития). Bokarev even boldly promised that the agency would be up and running in January 2012.

January came and went without any sign of the new agency or any blips about it in Russian media (of course, there was that wave of demonstrations that kicked up in December and provided quite a distraction). But now there has been another big blip: Not Bokarev, but his boss Sergei Storchak (Deputy Finance Minister) recently announced that the “packet of documents” that would officially establish the agency has been “agreed, signed off by the Minister, and sent to the government”. While Russia has long been a very active donor of multilateral aid through global agencies such as the UN and the World Bank, the new agency is expected to be involved in bilateral aid projects, an area in which Russia still needs to “accumulate potential”, as Storchak admitted.

Russia constitutes the ‘R’ in the BRICs and sometimes gets lumped in with the “emerging donors” (which typically refers to the likes of China, South Africa and India); yet in practice Russia is quite anomalous in the field of international development cooperation. The “emerging donor” China has had a dedicated foreign aid department since 1964, while South Africa seems to be on about the same timetable as Russia in establishing its South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA), and India is playing catch-up with its plans for an Indian Agency for Partnership in Development. If by some measures Russia seems to fit into this emerging donor category, by others it is distinctly a misfit – such as its status as a member of the G8, and the fact that it has been working quite closely with the World Bank for several years to structure its aid programme such that it will eventually be ”DAC-able”, i.e., commensurate with the requirements of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee.

For additional background on Russia’s donor activities, download this Summary Paper on the Public Face of Development in Russia (2011).

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