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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on What Comes Next for U.S. Policy Towards Russia

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on what comes next for U.S. policy towards Russia. The witnesses included The Honorable John Sullivan, former deputy secretary of State and U.S. ambassador to Russia, and Dr. Andrea Kendall Taylor, senior fellow and director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And thanks to our witnesses for appearing here this morning. 

“There has been a lot of discussion in Washington about Russia and Ukraine, but very little about what U.S. policy toward Russia should be now and in the future. I’m glad we get to have this conversation. 

“Russia under Putin is an autocratic and imperialist regime, and poses an acute threat to the freedom and stability that the United States and our allies have fought to promote and defend.

“This is true in Ukraine, more broadly in Europe, and throughout Africa, Latin America, the Arctic, and in the emerging China-Russia cooperation.

“Despite these increasing challenges, it is clear that the United States lacks a coherent policy to confront Russia.

“It appears the White House never really thinks about Russia until Moscow makes a move, and has never acted pro-actively to force the Kremlin to respond to our initiatives.

“Before Russia’s unprovoked invasion last year reminded us that weakness invites aggression, this administration’s approach resembled the failed Obama ‘reset’ – we all remember the reset, it didn’t work. As to this administration, it started with the unilateral extension of the New START treaty on inauguration day and continued to the refusal to impose Nord Stream 2 sanctions, it continued on to the Biden-Putin Summit in Geneva which produced no deliverables, and then on to the suspension of military assistance to Ukraine in May and November of 2021 because of concerns it would cause escalation.

“The administration has offered olive branch after olive branch. But as predicted, Putin used every dialogue and concession to lend himself legitimacy and increase Russia’s geopolitical status at our expense.

“We need to accept that Russia sees this kind of diplomacy as weakness, and that it only seriously responds when we project strength. This discredited approach has allowed for war in Europe, renewed Russian presence in the Middle East, a militarized arctic, and a growing Russian proxy footprint across Africa and Latin America.

“We need to be honest and acknowledge that under Putin, Russia is an adversary – not a willing partner. Our policies must confront Russia as it is now, not as it was thirty years ago. We must view Russia not only as a serious adversary in its own right, but also recognize its role in U.S.-China competition and other challenges of today’s world. 

“Domestically, Putin has turned Russia into a feudal kingdom where the whim of the autocrat is the only law. Political repression is at an all-time high. The opposition movement has been crushed, with anyone who expresses dissent either jailed, exiled, assassinated, or poisoned. Attacks on press freedom and state control of the media have reduced Russia to a propaganda state. Civil society has been muzzled, and anyone who could flee has already done so. 

“On sanctions, the United States has made a start, but there is so much more to do, particularly in targeting critical sectors like energy and, very importantly, cracking down on third-nation sanctions evasion.

“Likewise, we need a U.S. military strategy that accurately accounts for recent changes in Russia’s diminishing conventional capabilities. 

“At the same time, we should expect more nuclear threats. That has become consistent, and indeed during the Ukraine conflict commonplace, because of its frequency – to the point that it is largely ignored. This is dangerous, but not unexpected given Russia’s ham-handed statecraft. Russian thinking is clear in this regard. Putin knows he can threaten to use nuclear weapons without any concrete response from the West. Instead, he seriously believes his threats will deter us from doing what we should to protect our interests. 

“On all fronts, the United States needs to have a clearly defined policy for what we expect from Russia and what we are willing to do to pursue and protect our interests. We must also form this policy in the context of a more globally assertive China and its increasingly close strategic partnership with Russia.  

“This administration consistently, and all too often, worries about what Putin will do. We need a policy where Putin wakes up every morning worried about what we will do. 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on