On March 2, the U.S. State Department released a statement detailing new measures being taken to sanction Russia for the use of chemical weapons.
“Today, the Secretary of State determined that the Government of the Russian Federation has used a chemical weapon against its own nationals, in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” the statement began, referring to the poisoning of opposition activist Alexey Navalny, who fell ill last August after being exposed with the nerve agent known as “Novichok.”
First on the list of measures is “termination of assistance to Russia under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, except for urgent humanitarian assistance and food or other agricultural commodities or products.”
On March 3, Russian Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about this measure at a briefing, to which he replied:
“I, to my shame, now cannot remember what kind of assistance America has provided to Russia recently. Therefore, I cannot answer your question. I am at a loss to say what the United States is rejecting in this case. I am not aware of any help."
Perhaps Peskov’s memory really is at fault, but the idea that the United States never helped Russia is false.
In May 2020, the U.S. delivered a $5.6 million aid package to Russia, supplying 200 ventilators necessary for treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19. The delivery was carried out by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which had not worked in the country since 2012 because Russian authorities expelled the agency.
There is more on the U.S. government’s foreign assistance website. In 2020, the U.S. gave $8.54 million of aid worth to Russia. The bulk of it was $5.6 million for the COVID-19 assistance package mentioned above. But other items include $2.6 million for “peace and security” and $255,000 for environmental protection.
The amounts going to Russia vary greatly by year, with one of the highest being in 2013, when spending totaled $42.1 million. However, that year 35% of that assistance went toward “democracy, human rights, and governance,” something which the Kremlin sees as interference in Russia’s internal affairs.
Since U.S.-Russia relations fractured in 2014 after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, cooperation has dropped off. However, the U.S. has provided aid at other times.
In the 1990s, the U.S. sent food and medical supplies to Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union. In 1990, then-president George Herbert Walker Bush spearheaded and effort to deliver surplus chicken, mostly legs, to the Soviet Union when it was facing serious shortages of food and other consumer goods.
The chicken delivery was dubbed “Bush legs” by Russians.
Other historical examples include “Lend-Lease,” a World War II-era program under which the U.S. delivered the modern-day equivalent of $180 billion in military, technical, and humanitarian aid to the Soviet Union while it was struggling to rid itself of the Nazi German invader. In 1921, amid the Russian civil war, the American Relief Administration provided food aid to Russia when it was suffering from the famine.