Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy Hearing On Russia's Policies In Europe

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing.  I join you in welcoming our witnesses, each of whom brings a firsthand perspective on the challenges we are here to discuss.

This is the second congressional hearing on Russia since the beginning of the Trump Administration.  I suspect there will be many more.  It is also the first in which we have the benefit of hearing directly from representatives of countries that have experienced Russia’s military aggression and economic and political interference for many years. 

We now count ourselves among you, ever since we learned that the Russian government interfered in our election to further its own interests.

What has President Trump had to say about that?  Essentially nothing.  He has made no secret of his admiration for President Putin, while he and other White House officials have repeatedly disparaged the American news media – referring to the press as the “enemy of the people” – something we would expect of President Putin but not of the President of the United States.

That is why I have called for an independent investigation of Russia’s interference in our election. We need to know exactly what happened and why, so we can take appropriate action against those responsible and do our best to prevent it from happening again.

At the same time that President Trump has attacked the American media, he has said nothing about Vladimir Putin’s ruthless campaign to silence his critics, including the Russian press.  Nor have we heard any criticism from the President about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory, atrocities committed by Russian forces in Syria and support for the Assad regime, or Russia’s efforts to undermine stability and democracy across Europe.

I have to wonder how this lack of criticism, coupled with President Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin, is interpreted in the countries represented by today’s witnesses. 

Supporting the independence of our friends and allies when they are under threat or attack is obviously in our national interest. That is why this hearing is important, and why I will continue to work with Senator Graham to ensure that U.S. assistance is made available for our partners in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  Not because we seek a confrontation with Russia, but because we recognize the importance of ensuring that our partners can protect their sovereignty and provide for their people.

I share President Trump’s desire to have a constructive relationship with the Russia, rather than an adversarial one.  I have always favored diplomacy, and for keeping open lines of constructive communication.  But we cannot ignore the significance of the Russian government’s malignant activities – toward us and our partners – if we want to protect our national interests.

So I thank our witnesses and look forward to your testimony.

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