WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening statement at this morning’s full Committee hearing: “What Comes Next for U.S. Policy Towards Russia?” Testifying before the Committee were Dr. Andrea Kendall Taylor, Senior Fellow and Director, Transatlantic Security Program, Center for a New American Security, and the Honorable John Sullivan, Former Deputy Secretary of State and Ambassador of the United States to the Russian Federation (2020-2022).
“We need to continue our coordinated, global efforts to target Putin’s war machine because beyond Ukraine, and with support of the Wagner group, Putin continues to be a destructive, autocratic force on the world stage,” said Chairman Menendez. “Through Wagner mercenaries exploiting instability across the Sahel and Africa, through Russian cyber-attacks that destroy infrastructure, and through engineering a food crisis that now stretches halfway around the world, the Russian disinformation apparatus continues to find fertile ground for blatant lies that whitewash its own operations and undermine trust in the countries actually working to provide humanitarian assistance and promote peace and security.”
Find a copy of the Chairman’s remarks as delivered below.
“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
The last time U.S.-Russia relations were this bad, Kennedy was president, and Kruschev had nuclear missiles pointed at us from Cuba.
Today, our embassy in Moscow only has a skeleton staff that faces restrictions from a Russian government working to undermine U.S. interests all over the world.
In the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, democratic nations came together to isolate his regime with coordinated condemnation, and punishing set of sanctions.
They have reduced revenues from trade and petroleum products, pushed more than 1,000 companies to pull out of Russia, and isolated the country’s financial industry.
And yet, the Russian economy only shrank by two percent in 2022, and Russia has dramatically increased trade with other autocratic nations including China and Iran, not to mention India.
So, we need to continue our coordinated, global efforts to target Putin’s war machine because beyond Ukraine, and with support of the Wagner group, Putin continues to be a destructive, autocratic force on the world stage.
Inside Russia, Kremlin cronies kidnap Americans—from basketball stars to Wall Street Journal reporters—to use as bargaining chips in their geopolitical games.
They have imprisoned Russian dissidents that threaten Putin’s power like Vladimir Kara Murza or Alexei Navalny and they have shut down independent media to control the behavior and minds of Russian citizens.
But beyond Russia’s borders, far away from the headlines of Western nations, there is a very different picture.
Sergey Lavrov is globetrotting around the world to shore up support.
A so-called ‘limitless partnership’ with China, which apparently includes working to shape international institutions in their own image, undermining the values of sovereignty, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.
The Russian embassy here in DC is throwing cocktail parties attended by diplomats from all over the Global South, who then abstain or even vote against resolutions to support Ukraine.
At the United Nations, Russia uses its seat on the Security Council to make a mockery of any attempts to hold Putin and his regime accountable for the atrocities their forces are committing.
So, while we can laud the fact that more than 140 UN members condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine versus 35 who abstained, as the Financial Times recently pointed out, those 35 countries represent more than half the world’s population.
Underlying these Russian efforts is a sophisticated mis- and dis-information campaign that, quite frankly, I do not believe we are effectively dealing with.
Through Wagner mercenaries exploiting instability across the Sahel and Africa, through Russian cyber-attacks that destroy infrastructure, and through engineering a food crisis that now stretches halfway around the world, the Russian disinformation apparatus continues to find fertile ground for blatant lies that whitewash its own operations and undermine trust in the countries actually working to provide humanitarian assistance and promote peace and security.
To say nothing of its targeted campaign against the United States and our electoral systems as well as those of our democratic allies who embrace the same fundamental human rights and freedoms that underpin our own system.
So let me thank our witnesses for appearing today.
I hope you will speak to these challenges and how the United States and our partners can overcome them.
How can we better leverage sanctions and punitive tools to further cripple Russia’s leadership?
How can we better leverage international institutions to confront Russian influence?
What tools can we utilize to hold Russian actors accountable for their crimes against humanity in Ukraine and human rights abuses at home?
I also hope our witness will speak to how we can combat Putin’s weaponization of energy from Georgia to Syria to Moldova.
I am pleased that Senator Risch is working with me on a bill to support energy security in Eastern Europe and beyond, which will be critical to cutting off Putin’s assets.
I am also working on efforts to support Russian dissidents who have fled, and welcome your thoughts on how we can best support those Russians who want to see a brighter future for their country.
This question of the future of U.S.-Russia relations is obviously huge.
I haven’t even touched on non-proliferation or arctic security or climate change.
But at this point I’ll turn it over to Ranking Member Risch and look forward to hearing from out witnesses.”
Remarks edited lightly for clarity.