Feds to Spend $3 Million for ‘Greater Understanding’ Between United States and Russia

Projects facilitate ‘closer ties’ between Russian and American summer camps

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin
Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin / AP
February 14, 2014

The federal government will spend up to $3 million to build "greater understanding" between Russians and Americans by facilitating projects such as summer camp counselor exchanges.

The State Department announced on Tuesday it would award approximately 30 grants worth up to $100,000 each for its "US-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program," which seeks to enhance "greater interaction and understanding between our two societies."

The funding will go towards exchange programs, web-chats, seminars, interactive training, and classroom activities. The government said topics can focus on "any theme," suggesting higher education, cultural exchange, journalism, environment, or civil society.

Projects that received funding last year included a camp counselor exchange, a project to "protect salmon," and a "cool school lab" that sought to establish "long-term collaboration between biology teachers in both countries."

The program seemingly originated out of the Obama administration’s "reset" with Russia.

"Recognizing the need to make a fresh start in relations between the U.S. and Russia, the Presidents of both countries created the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission in July 2009 to improve coordination between our governments and societies to address shared challenges and to explore new opportunities for partnership in areas of mutual interest," the grant announcement for the program stated in 2013 when it was launched.

"To help foster greater contacts between Americans and Russians, the State Department is announcing the U.S.-Russia Peer-to-Peer Dialogue Program, which will provide small grants to support meetings, virtual interactions, exchanges, and internships between American and Russian organizations," the announcement said.

Currently underway is the "Campers-to-Campers Dialogue" program, which sends Russian camp counselors to do a three-month internship in the United States.

American counselors will spend the summer at Orlyonok, a year-round government-run camp, founded by the Soviet Union in 1959.

The camper exchange hopes to "foster dialogue between Russian and American educators and share best practices in summer camp management."

"The leaders of participating children’s camps hope that this pilot project will pave the way for closer ties and exchanges between US and Russian summer camps," according to a description of the program by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The program is also funding a documentary project on "disability-related issues" made by Russian and American filmmaking teams, and a "Green Building U.S.-Russian Peer-to-Peer Dialogue."

"The project will encourage ongoing dialogue between US and Russian professionals on the topic of green building and sustainable construction," a description of the grant said. "This dialogue will encourage the exchange of knowledge, best practices and experience in the design, construction, operation and maintenance, and financing of healthy and high performing places, resulting in the creation of direct personal relationships between U.S. and Russian citizens and companies."

The State Department will accept applications for its latest round of $100,000 grants until March 11.

The agency said projects must be "non-political" and focus on themes of "mutual interest."