December 03, 2019

Chairman Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Future of U.S. Policy towards Russia

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a full committee hearing on the future of U.S. policy towards Russia, with witness testimony from the Honorable David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and the Honorable Christopher A. Ford, assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation at the U.S. Department of State.

Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

“Good morning to you all, and thanks to our witnesses for joining us today to examine the current state of the U.S.-Russia relationship and our strategy to deal with the Russian Federation.

“It is timely to assess our relationship with Russia as we have recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union: the fall of the Berlin Wall, Solidarity’s election victory in Poland, and the Baltic Way demonstrations, among others. Many former Soviet states have become prosperous democracies with memberships in NATO and the EU.

“But Vladimir Putin has taken Russia down another, much darker path. Today, many Russians suffer, while oligarchs enrich themselves through control of major industries. Russia rigs its elections to ensure only Kremlin-approved politicians make the cut. Russia has targeted and expelled humanitarian organizations and free media outlets, labeling them “foreign agents.” And the Russian people are inhumanely imprisoned and tortured for daring to disagree with the government.

“Not only does the Russian Federation make life at home painful for the average Russian, but Putin is also making life hard for people around world. He has meddled in American and European elections, sowing political chaos. He has propped up the murderous regime of Syrian President al-Assad. He sells arms to human rights abusers in Africa and missile defense systems to U.S. allies and adversaries alike. And in Venezuela, Maduro continues to hang on to power as people suffer, thanks in large part to Russian assistance.

“Of course, we all know about the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine over the years, and about the poisoning of Russian people on other sovereign soil. The world today is more dangerous and less free because of the Russian Federation.

“As a result, the U.S. relationship with Russia is at a low point. During the height of the Cold War, our leaders had a lifeline to ensure that neither side made a disastrous miscalculation - the famous red phone. Today, our engagements with Russia are few, and there is a growing risk of a strategic miscalculation on the seas, the ground, or in the skies.

“To be clear, our problems are with the Putin and his cronies.

“To date, the U.S. and our allies have been pretty tough on the Putin regime. Since 2014, we have imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian nationals and companies that have been involved in the illegal annexation of Crimea, the war in the east of Ukraine, the downing of Flight MH17, as well as human rights abuses in Russia. In 2018, after Russia used chemical weapons on the territory of a NATO ally, we closed two Russian consulates and helped coordinate a 20-country expulsion of undeclared Russian spies. The U.S. now rotates troops through Poland, and through the Enhanced Forward Presence, NATO has stationed troops in the Baltics. And America has provided lethal and non-lethal defensive weapons to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian-backed separatists.

“Each of these actions is important to countering Russia’s malign global influence. However, they do not form a cohesive U.S. strategy. To successfully deter future Russian aggression, America, including Congress, must think strategically about Russia now and in the future. I encourage today’s witnesses to discuss the Administration’s current strategy toward Russia and what it is intended to accomplish.

“But I must also caution the Administration and my Congressional colleagues about focusing our strategy on sanctions. Sanctions are not a strategy for dealing with Russia, they are simply a tool. While U.S. financial preeminence makes sanctions an easy and somewhat effective tool, I have serious concerns about the consequences of their overuse, particularly in the absence of a larger strategy. More sanctions don’t make us tougher on Russia.

“And I’m concerned about the rush to sanction in the absence of concrete policy goals. The NordStream 2 bill from Senators Cruz and Shaheen was a targeted sanctions bill with a clear policy goal in mind. But more general sanctions actions, when not connected to specific goals, can be counterproductive. And sanctions not done in coordination with our European allies, who are far closer to Russia in both distance and connectivity, is a dangerous action that can undermine our alliances.

“In some cases, when insufficiently vetted, sanctions have even inadvertently helped advance Putin’s goals of economic consolidation and reinvigoration of Russian industry. These cannot be the outcomes we want. I assume these are outcomes we actually oppose.

“With that, I yield to Senator Menendez.”

The witness testimonies are available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing. 

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