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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Changing Partnership

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On Wednesday, there was a major reception at the British Embassy to mark the departure of the Department for International Development, or DFID, the British government's bilateral development program. DFID has been active in Russia since the early 1990s and has funded over 800 projects.

The centerpiece of DFID's "going away" party was the screening of a new documentary film, "DFID -- the Russian Story" about the organization's impact here. Some of my colleagues from the United Nations, the European Union and the Russian government had been interviewed for this film, which is available from the British Embassy's press section, and it was clear that they were genuinely impressed by the work that DFID has done with its Russian partners. The head of USAID said DFID "punches above its weight"; while its budgets were fairly limited, the impact of its projects has been high.

Considering that DFID has worked in Russia since the early 1990s in almost every sector and most regions, it is difficult to describe in a few words what it has done. It has worked on reforming the social protection system, on the HIV-AIDS issue, on public finance, on developing civil society and small and medium-sized enterprises, on environment, trade and conflict prevention.

Poverty alleviation is the driving principle of DFID's work, and the way we go about this is by working in close partnership with Russian institutions at federal and regional levels. We look at the issues around poverty and try to build the capacity within the public administration to address them more effectively. For example, a social research project in Nizhny Novgorod showed that the most vulnerable members of society were in fact unemployed families with lots of children -- not old people as had been assumed -- and this helped social services to improve their targeting of benefits.

There are two significant points about DFID's departure from Russia: It is a good example of how well Britain and Russia can work together on practical issues; and it is an indicator that Russia, as an increasingly wealthy country, no longer needs the kind of bilateral assistance that DFID provides to the world's poorest nations.

The media sometimes raise questions about the political relationship between Russia and Britain, and there are issues about which we disagree. But as ambassador, I have been struck by how well we work with our Russian counterparts on a practical basis. DFID's programs are the best possible evidence of this.

Through the DFID program, British and Russian experts have worked at the federal and the local level on complex and sensitive issues like public administration reform, working out ways of dealing with the HIV-AIDS epidemic, juvenile justice and encouraging foreign direct investment. None of this would have been possible if there had not been a strong sense of trust, mutual respect and discretion built up over many years.

Ending these partnerships and relationships will be difficult for all involved. On the one hand, Russia is a member of the Group of Eight and is becoming increasingly active in helping less developed countries. On the other hand, the reform process in Russia is still not complete. Too many people still live in poverty, and the kind of bilateral aid that DFID offers is arguably still needed.

In 2002, the British government decided to withdraw its support from the so-called middle income countries in order to concentrate its support on the poorest countries of Africa and Asia. Russia was classified as a middle income country, along with much of Latin America, and the painful decision to leave was made.

Fortunately, this is not the end of British bilateral support to Russia. Although its office in Moscow will close at the end of March, DFID will maintain a presence -- with a particular focus on helping Russia implement its G8 commitments. In addition, we have the Global Opportunities Fund, which is another instrument with which we have been able to show that we can work successfully on practical issues with our Russian counterparts.

And Russia will have its own role to play in the international aid sphere. Having learned some useful lessons through our programs, Russia is now considering setting up its own donor organization to offer funding and expertise to poor countries of the world. It has already written off much debt from highly indebted poor countries.

I welcome this trend. It brings Britain and Russia even closer together -- as partners, fighting poverty worldwide. If this is DFID's main legacy, we will have done our job well.

Tony Brenton is the British Ambassador to Russia.