On April 6, 2017, the Brookings Institute hosted U.S. Senator Chris Coons to discuss the future of US-Russia relations as well as the Transatlantic relationship and the NATO alliance. The US. Congress plays a critical role in foreign policy starting with the Marshall Plan. #USRUSSIA

Senator Chris Coons states that back in 1950 a national intelligence agency outlined two goals of the Soviet Union; Primarily the destruction of the working unity among Western countries and isolation and secondly alienating the Western people from their governments to undermine their leaders. The senator states that the international arena has changed and that the dimensions of Vladimir Putin’s government is achieving the goals previously established by the Soviet Union. The campaign the Russian government is waging against the west is a new type of war that has not yet been defined and is not recognized. The senator mentions that the US is failing in acknowledging this conflict and responding effectively. He further states that since WW2 the American-led liberal international order helped preserve peace and promoted stability as well as allowing the US economy to grow democracy concurrently to spread globally. Coons states that he does not believe that they are fighting for the liberal world for charity but a more prosperous, safer and economic secure world for Americans. Vladimir Putin does not support these views and sees them as threats to the Kremlin, and he is achieving his goals by projections through aggression, disinformation, open and covert support for transparent and illiberal parties.

The speaker argues that Putin’s regime benefits from the selection of conservative, nationalistic candidates in European governments. Putin is hoping that through the propaganda campaigns and the spread of misinformation will lead to confusion and mistrust in institutions.

The Kremlin knows that they cannot compete with Europe and the US on a level playing field, free markets and the democratic rule of law, which is why it is fighting a hybrid war as outlined in the Gerasimov doctrine. In the modern world, the lines between peace and war are blurry. In today’s day, you can achieve political and strategic goals through nonmilitary means, which exemplifies that the power of weapons has diminished. The panelist argues that no matter what forces the enemy has, forms and methods for overcoming them can be found. Russia has enthusiastically and successfully employed the doctrine by engaging in a covert war against the West through overt aggression, energy supplies, cover actions, propaganda, corruption, information war, support for opposition parties. This undeclared war has come to the US and undermined American trust in institutions and democracy.

The Senator argues that this conflict is not limited to the US, but to upcoming European elections. The problems in Europe have created divisions and fear which makes nations susceptible to Russian propaganda. Last August he saw the previously mentioned problems first hand in the Balkan countries. Putin is exploiting Europe’s vulnerabilities. The tactic employed on US elections are on display where Russia is actively supporting Le Pen and undermining her candidates through fake stories backed by trolls and Russian Direct TV. They are seeking to influence elections.

The rise of far-right authoritarian parties threatens the existence of EU. Trades, goods, and services exceed 1 trillion dollars a year. The Senator underlines that any instability in Europe will inflict negatively on the US. A weakened EU and NATO will be impactful and will spark the end of sanctions for Russia, which would enable the Kremlin’s expansionism plan. In light of this challenge Senator Chris Coons suggests five ways Congress can aid the situation:

  1. Members of both political parties must understand the type of war we are engaged in. They cannot seek to contain Russia through force without fighting the information war.
  2. To successfully contain and respond to Russia there is a need for the American public to understand the problem. Only half of Americans believe Russia interfered in the US elections. There is an internal division.
  3. To maintain sanctions against Russia and add new sanctions for the aggression, as well as supporting the civil society. Require that Congress weigh in before President Trump can weigh in.
  4. To provide support for Eastern European partners by backing opposes and aid development.
  5. All elected officials need to reassure allies that the US supports EU and NATO.

Synthesis by:  Patricia Besciu – all opinions are those of the speaker 

For more information visit: https://www.brookings.edu/events/us-crisis-russia/