American Center in Russia Closes, US-Russian Relations Deteriorate

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin / AP

The Russian government is closing the American Center in Moscow, suggesting a further disintegration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The center, which sees as many as 300 visitors daily, connects Russian citizens to American history, politics, and literature. It functions as a public library and lecture hall and allows visitors to check out books and videos about American life.

"Our center also hosts various events: lectures on various subjects – from the history of jazz to U.S. presidential elections, from poetry readings to problems facing small businesses," the center’s website reads. "We also offer advice for those who wish to continue their studies in the United States."

The center’s closing is the "final straw" in a "systematic shutting down" of American Centers across Russia "over the past couple of years," according to U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner. Toner said that the center in Moscow represents a "free information space," and that the closing is related to "the state of Russia’s democracy."

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft expressed regret about the Kremlin’s decision to close the center, saying that ties between American and Russian citizens persisted even throughout the Cold War.

"The American Center has built deep and strong connections between the people and cultures of Russia and the United States," he wrote in a statement. "These latest unilateral steps further call into question the Russian government’s commitment to maintaining people-to-people ties between the Russian and American people, which continued even during the Cold War and other complicated moments in our countries’ long history,"

The closing comes a year after the Russian government’s decision to terminate the Future Leader Exchange (FLEX) program, formerly the largest exchange program between the U.S. and Russia.

Russia's support of the Assad regime has put an extra strain on U.S.-Russian relations in recent weeks. In the last year, the U.S. has also spoken out against Russia’s "aggressive actions" aiding separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin has been openly cooperating with the Assad regime, stating that it "has long been supplying arms and military equipment to Syria in accordance with bilateral contracts." Russian President Vladimir Putin bolstered the statement, saying that Russia is fighting ISIS’ "terrorist aggression" alongside the Syrian government.

The State Department has said that the U.S. will not prop up or cooperate with the Assad regime, and will instead opt for a political transition in Syria.

Russian public perception of the United States also reflects the current state of U.S.-Russian relations.

An August 2015 Levada Center poll revealed that 70 percent of Russians hold a negative attitude toward the United States, compared to 75 percent that hold a positive attitude toward China and 43 percent that hold a positive attitude toward Iran.