Even as the West is considering tighter economic sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation for its sharply increased military aggression in Ukraine, the United Nations’ flagship anti-poverty agency has signed a new development partnership with Moscow “focused on cooperation at the regional and global level,” according to the U.N. agency’s announcement of the deal.
The pact was signed over the weekend in Switzerland, by United Nations Development Program Administrator Helen Clark and Russia’s first deputy Prime Minister, Igor Shuvalov.
The signing came in the midst of a renewed military campaign by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists that had already reduced a strategic Ukrainian airfield at Donetsk to rubble.
A day after the January 23 UNDP-Russian Federation signing event, a separatist artillery bombardment of the city of Mariupol killed at least 30 people and appeared to be part of a new bid for territorial expansion by the rebels.
The Mariupol bombardment led to a statement Monday by the combined heads of government of the European Union that specifically underlined “Russia’s responsibility” for supporting the rebels.
The European leaders called on their foreign ministers to “consider any appropriate action,” including additional sanctions, to bring about a ceasefire in Ukraine alone lines agreed to last September in the city of Minsk.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki added Washington’s voice to the condemnation at a Monday press conference.
“While Russia talks about peace, the separatists they support continue to kill,” she declared, “and we continue to believe that they will be judged on their actions, not just on their words.”
Among other things, the UNDP-Russia partnership agreement is intended to codify a new role -- and likely new channel of influence -- for Russia as a donor rather than a recipient of development aid through U.N. channels.
According to a UNDP spokesman, the new agreement “has been in development over the past three years,” although the agency gave no reason why the deal was signed during a spike of military and diplomatic tension between Russia and the West.
He described the new arrangement as “a typical instrument used by UNDP to manage its partnerships with emerging donors, including those that are transitioning from the role of recipient of aid to that of donor, and with those that combine both roles.”
According to UNDP, the Russian Federal has already funneled some $20 million through UNDP channels to countries including Belarus, Cuba, Armenia, Syria and Tajikistan for a variety of disaster relief projects related to the new agreement.
An additional agreement is also under negotiation, aimed at created in UNDP-managed trust fund to support “specific UNDP projects” in countries that form part of the Russian-influenced Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, the spokesman said, including a process of sharing “knowledge and expertise between developing countries” known as “south-south cooperation.”
Questions to the U.S. State Department about the new arrangements did not elicit a response.
According to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, (OCHA) the eastern Ukrainian conflict has displaced more than 1 million people and left 1 million children in need of assistance in what the OCHA calls “a full-blown humanitarian emergency that requires significant international support.”
OCHA has called for $189 million in relief aid for the stricken region, but also warned that “aid agencies have been unable to negotiate access to many communities trapped in non-government-controlled areas” -- in other words, those controlled by Russian-backed rebels.
The OCHA relief appeal amounts to roughly half of the amount -- $364.4 million -- that all U.N. agencies paid to Russia as a supplier of goods and services in 2013, the most recent year for which consolidated U.N. procurement statistics are available.