MOSCOW — Just days after the United States withdrew from a joint panel on civil society, Russia said Wednesday that it was dropping out of an agreement that provided help from the United States in fighting narcotics and human trafficking and enhancing the rule of law.
The announcement, made in a curt statement signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and posted on the government Web site, bore signs of another apparent tit for tat over the U.S. Magnitsky Act. The statement said the agreement, reached in 2002 and intended to improve enforcement of intellectual property rights, was canceled because it “does not address current realities and has exhausted its potential.”
Hours after the posting, Russian officials described the move as another step away from dependence on outside assistance and excessive U.S. influence. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was not connected to any dispute between the two countries. But it follows back-and-forth actions set off by the passage in the United States of the Magnitsky Act, which imposes visa and financial sanctions on corrupt Russian officials. Russia countered with a ban on U.S. adoptions, and last week the United States withdrew from a high-level Russian-American civil society group, saying Russian policies made such a panel ineffective and inappropriate.
“Withdrawal from this agreement means that we have become absolutely self-sufficient both organizationally and financially,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee in parliament’s lower house, told the Interfax news agency Wednesday. “This is our course toward getting rid of some dependence on the U.S.”
Pushkov said it was unlikely that the Russian action would further damage relations with the United States.
“After the Americans passed the so-called Magnitsky Act, they themselves added serious tension to our relations, and negative consequences from the adoption of that act are much worse than the decision to pull out of the intergovernmental agreement on combating crime and drug trafficking,” he said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed the Russian decision but said the United States was seeking clarification about the scope of the change.
“We obviously regret this decision because under our agreement, we’ve had very fruitful cooperation with Russia on rule of law, counter-corruption efforts, preventing trafficking in persons, counternarcotics and strengthening our mutual legal assistance cooperation,” Nuland said.
She called the Russian action “self-defeating.”
“Most of the work we were doing under this agreement was also involved in training Russians,” Nuland said. “But it’s obviously a Russian decision if they don’t feel they need that help anymore.”
Since 2002, hundreds of Russian prosecutors and investigators, along with some judges and defense lawyers, have participated in U.S.-sponsored programs in Moscow and have traveled to the United States. Their American counterparts have, in turn, traveled to Russia to improve cooperation in fighting crime worldwide.
The programs, overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, were funded to the tune of $6.1 million in 2011 and $5.6 million in 2010. They provided a framework for the United States to pay the expenses of Russian officials’ U.S. visits — the officials are otherwise prohibited from accepting money from foreign governments.
Mark Galeotti, professor of global affairs at New York University and an expert on Russian security issues, said that although Russia no longer needs financial assistance like it did 10 years ago, there was no reason to scrap the agreement.
“The fact that they have done this is more a symptom of Moscow trying to look for ways to signal its displeasure with Washington following Magnitsky,” Galeotti said in an e-mail, “and it also underlines the lack of practical and meaningful ways of doing so that the Russians have at their disposal.”
Late Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry weighed in with a statement that put a more positive spin on the rupturing of the agreement, saying that over the years the United States had provided more than $12 million in material and technical assistance for crime-fighting projects.
“Once again we are expressing gratitude to the U.S. side for the assistance rendered in fighting crime challenges,” the statement said. “We confirm our readiness to further build up bilateral cooperation in combating transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking.”
Russia also announced Wednesday that, effective Feb. 11, it would ban U.S. pork and beef imports, citing the use of a controversial feed additive called ractopamine. China, the European Union and other countries also prohibit meat with traces of the chemical, which is fed to most American hogs and cattle to promote the growth of lean meat. Food safety groups in the United States also have called to curtail its use.
The Russian move, which affects about $500 million a year in imports, was expected. Moscow also was planning to ban meat from Canada, but Canadian officials promised this week to take steps to restrict the use of ractopamine.
Russia denies that the ban on U.S. meat is in retaliation for the Magnitsky bill.
Anne Gearan contributed to this report from Washington.