Washington, 13 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department says the United States is prepared to reassign its Peace Corps volunteers to other countries if Russia feels they are not needed there.
Spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters on 12 August that Russia has declined to renew the visas of some volunteers and is refusing entry visas to the incoming group of volunteers.
The Peace Corps was established by former U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to help countries that needed assistance in education, agriculture, business development, and related fields. During the Cold War years, the program focused largely on African, Asian, and Latin American countries. Following the fall of communism, the former Soviet bloc countries invited the Peace Corps to help with their transition to a market economy.
Reeker said that since 1992, 711 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers have worked in more than 50 communities throughout Russia in the fields of English-language education, business development, and related endeavors. "For the past year, the Peace Corps has experienced some significant problems with visa delay, denial, or even cancellation for some of the currently serving volunteers. And so 30 of the 64 volunteers currently in Russia have not been issued a second-year visa," Reeker said.
The Russian program's acting director, Jeff Hay, said Moscow has given no reason for the visa denials. Several officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry said they knew nothing about the situation.
But Pavel Sedalev, a specialist at the Russian Education Ministry who helps coordinate the Peace Corps program, told U.S. news daily "The Washington Post" that many of the volunteers come with no training to teach English or business development -- two priorities in that country. He said some of the volunteers were "absolutely not qualified."
Some Russians who have worked with Peace Corps volunteers expressed dismay at the situation. The newspaper on 12 August quoted Ilfat Nurgaleev, an official in the province of Udmurtiya, as saying that the volunteers' reputation is "excellent" and that "everybody is happy about their work and preparing requests to invite new volunteers."
The State Department's Reeker also defended the volunteers' qualifications. "Peace Corps volunteers obviously are a resource that we can offer. They've been very valuable in many countries in Eastern Europe. If they're not needed in Russia, then we can certainly redirect that resource elsewhere, where our volunteers may be more effective in doing that," Reeker said.
The Peace Corps says the volunteers hope to leave a legacy of service, community development, and cross-cultural exchange.
In addition to Russia, U.S. Peace Corps volunteers are stationed in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The Peace Corps says its mission will be completed in the Slovak Republic and the Baltic countries by the end of October.