Congress Told Russia’s Putin is a Growing Threat to the U.S.
WASHINGTON – Foreign policy experts at a congressional hearing Tuesday described the Russian government as increasingly troubled under the rule of Vladimir Putin and a growing threat to the United States.
They said recent reports that the Russian military paid Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan are a sign of a bigger trend.
“I think there’s an escalation here,” said Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, during a hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
Under Russian President Putin’s “populist” agenda, he perceives the United States as his adversary while he tries to push his influence into foreign countries, McFaul said.
“Anything that weakens us is good for him,” McFaul said.
In the case of Russian bounties for the Taliban to kill Americans, the former ambassador said Putin sought to entangle the United States in a bigger international fiasco.
“He just wants us to be bogged down,” McFaul said.
Russia’s other military moves that angered the U.S. government included annexations of territory within its former republics in Georgia and the Ukraine. Russia also supported Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad during bombings of dissidents that killed numerous civilians.
McFaul cautioned that the Russian government is likely to try again to use the Internet and computer hacking to sway U.S. federal elections in their favor.
“I am really afraid of what they will do on election day,” McFaul said.
He recommended that Congress pass the DETER Act, a bill pending in the House and Senate that would require deporting foreigners if there are reasonable grounds to believe they are trying to interfere with a U.S. election.
He also recommended declassifying some secret information that might compel an international backlash against Russia, similar to reports beginning in 2003 that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.
Lawmakers put some of the blame on the Wagner Group, which claims to be a private Russian military contracting company.
The foreign policy witnesses said the Wagner Group’s close ties to the Russian Army show it carries out military operations for Putin in situations where he does not want to claim responsibility for their actions.
They reportedly include assassinations of Putin’s political adversaries, including three Russian journalists murdered in the Central African Republic in July 2018. They were investigating alleged efforts by the Wagner Group to influence foreign policies of the African country.
The company is believed to be owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close links to Putin.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, chairman of the public policy group Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, said Putin’s recent changes to the Russian Constitution that will allow him to remain president until 2036 converted his administration into “a perfect dictatorship.”
As a result, Putin’s popularity among Russians was plummeting, raising the possibility of civil unrest, he said.
“Nobody’s accepting this spectacle Putin has created,” Kara-Murza said.
Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., pledged a broad-based response to what he described as Russian aggression. He gave few details for a plan of action.
“We will act in Congress,” said Keating, chairman of the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy and the Environment.
“This will be a continuing effort until we get it right,” Keating said.