U.S. Congress Threatens to Cut Aid

WASHINGTON -- Taking a symbolic swipe at Russia, U.S. lawmakers are threatening to withhold aid unless Moscow improves conditions for journalists, political activists and religious groups.

The United States provides only $72.2 million in direct aid to the Russian government, most of which is meant for nongovernmental organizations promoting democracy building, economic development and environmental protection. Congress is threatening to withhold the small fraction meant for government programs such as police and judicial training, hoping to send a message to Moscow about restrictions on civil rights and free speech.

Further blunting the practical impact, the measure in Congress also gives the president the ability to waive the restrictions if doing so is in U.S. interests.

The measure, which is expected to be passed this week, would block aid until Bush has either waived the restrictions or certified in writing that Russia has met certain conditions.