Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: August 7, 2004: Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview: Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002
The Peace Corps' Departure from Russia The Peace Corps' Departure from Russia
The Washington Post reported on August 12, 2002 that the Russian government had "moved to kick out dozens of Peace Corps workers in a decision that could severely hinder the program's operations here and prevent new volunteers from coming." PCOL wrote a cover story, Will the Peace Corps be leaving Russia? to examine the implications of the move.

On December 15, the head of Russia's Federal Security Bureau (previously known as the KGB) made allegations against Peace Corps Volunteers of "suspicious activities" and on December 27, the Russian government announced its intention to abandon the ten year agreement with the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps left Russia after a graduation ceremony in February 2003.

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Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview - Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002

Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview - Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002

Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview - Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002

Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002

PCOL: In August 2002, the Russian government refused to renew the one year visas of 30 of the 62 volunteers seeking visas for a second year in Russia and they were unable to complete their service. You had just been confirmed as Director a few months before when this occurred. By December 2002, the situation had escalated to spy allegations in the Russian press. The Russian head of the FSB (the successor organization to the KGB) stated that volunteers were engaged in intelligence activities and in spite of a personal appeal from Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Putin government terminated the Peace Corps program in Russia at the end of 2002.

In retrospect, is there anything that Peace Corps could have done differently or would have done differently in Russia to maintain the program? Or in retrospect, were there warning signs that we perhaps should have seen so that we could have exited the program before the situation got to the point of spy allegations?

GV: I think the Peace Corps did an extraordinary job in Russia. The volunteers' efforts were tremendous and provided the kind of education and programming that has made the Peace Corps the great organization that it is.

That's not speculation on my part. I was at the closing ceremony for the program. I spoke with countless leaders of community-based organizations who came from throughout Russia to Moscow to thank the volunteers and the Peace Corps for the tremendous service that volunteers rendered during the time we were in Russia. The allegations made about intelligence gathering were baseless. They were groundless and without merit. It was unfortunate that some chose to articulate that kind of suggestion because it's groundless.

Part of the Peace Corps philosophy is that Peace Corps volunteers serve in host countries where the host country welcomes and wants Peace Corps volunteers. Our bilateral agreements provide that anytime a host country determines that they no longer want Peace Corps volunteers, they have the right or prerogative to terminate a program, just as we do. In this instance, the Russian government chose to terminate the program. That was their decision and we respect that because that has been the tradition and philosophy of the Peace Corps, as far as I am aware, over the period of time that the Peace Corps has existed. We respect that. While we may have some disagreements, the fact is that it was their prerogative and they chose to exercise that.

PCOL: Do you think that the Peace Corps just got caught in some big power politics, that there were larger issues involved, and that perhaps the Peace Corps was just made a scapegoat or a symbol of the relationship between Russia and the United States?

GV: I don't have enough information to be able to make a judgment on that one way or the other. I believe that it is important for volunteers to be able to do their work with minimal distraction, minimal interruption. Once it gets to a point where volunteer's work is interrupted or distracted by whatever conditions or circumstances may exist in country, we need to evaluate whether a program can continue to be viable. I think that is the wise and prudent thing for any administration to do as it relates to the quality and effectiveness of a program. In this case, it was the host government that asked for the program to cease and be terminated and we respected that right and privilege. They chose to exercise it and we closed the program.

PCOL: I have heard that Peace Corps volunteers are having some visa problems in at least one other Central Asian Republic. Uzbekistan is the country I am referring to. Does this raise a red light with you? Is there something or are active steps being taken either to resolve the situation, improve the situation, or perhaps to take other steps.

 Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002

GV: Let me answer the question in the broad context of my general philosophy. Again, I go back to what I just stated, which is evaluating the quality of the Peace Corps volunteer experience. This is not just talk. The people who work with me and for me will tell you that I mean business when I say the following. When a volunteer's work is disrupted or interrupted, and the volunteer becomes distracted from the focus of his or her job, then we as an agency have a responsibility to that volunteer to look into the issues, to evaluate the issues and determine whether a program is still viable in a country.

If we find that there may be some issues, we use the appropriate lines of communication to find out what issues may exist, try to resolve them and remedy the situation. For the most part, we are successful. But, we remain very vigilant when any kind of issue related to host government surfaces, so that we continue the smoothness of the relationship, but also preserve the quality of the experience of volunteers in country.

Read our interview with Director Vasquez in this month's issue of PCOL Magazine:

Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview
This month we sat down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.

Then read the questions and answers one by one and leave your comments on the issues raised during the interview including Infrastructure Upgrades and the new Situation Room at Headquarters, Is there a Budget Crunch this year at Peace Corps, Peace Corps' Long Term Expansion, the Changes to the Five-Year Rule made last year, Safety and Security Issues, the Cooperative Agreement with NPCA, RPCVs in Policy Making Positions at Peace Corps Headquarters, Peace Corps' Departure from Russia in 2002, Director Vasquez's Accomplishments as Director, the Peace Corps Safety and Security Bill before Congress, Continuity at the Agency during Changes in Administration, the Community College Program, and the Director's Message to the Returned Volunteer Community.

Read the questions and answers and leave your comments.

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Story Source: PCOL Exclusive

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Directors - Vasquez; COS - Russia; Intelligence Issues



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