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Engel Opening Statement at Russia Hearing

Engel Opening Statement at Russia Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a Committee hearing on Russia’s weaponization of information.

– As Delivered – Click Hear for Video

“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for calling this morning’s hearing and I especially want to thank you for your leadership as this Committee works to address the growing Russian threat.  You’ve really been right on top of it.  I really appreciate it and it’s just so important.  Thank you for your courage and for your voice, it has been a pleasure to be a partner.

“Let me also thank our witnesses today for sharing your expertise about a major part of that threat: Russia's new and intensified propaganda effort.

“It’s long past due that we take a hard look at this challenge.  The Kremlin’s disorientation campaign goes beyond political spin and disinformation.  What we see pouring out of the Kremlin amounts to the ‘weaponization’ of information.

“Propaganda is a critical element of Russia’s so-called hybrid warfare strategy—a strategy on devastating display in occupied Crimea and war-torn Eastern Ukraine. Coupled with cyberattacks and other covert operations, these new capabilities and Vladimir Putin’s belligerence pose a direct threat to our allies and our interests.

“These measures are well financed.  These measures are working.  And these measures demand a robust response from us.

“Kremlin-controlled media are putting down roots around the world. Russian financial support is bolstering fringe political parties, creating puppet NGOs, and fostering a facade of academic research sympathetic to Vladimir Putin’s anti-democratic worldview.

“The Kremlin aims to undermine democratic organizations and alliances.  Russia’s leaders want to divide allies and partners while seeking to discredit the post-Cold War order in Europe. This strategy is not just to disseminate lies, but to sow doubt and confusion, especially about what is actually and really happening in Ukraine.

“The component of this propaganda war that concerns me most is the influx of Kremlin-controlled television broadcasts in front-line states. From the Baltics to Central Asia, a Russian-speaking population of nearly 100 million people is getting its news from such distorted broadcasts. Here, the Kremlin uses high quality entertainment to draw an audience, then interlaces that programming with their twisted and false perspective on political, military, and economic events.

“Today, I hope we can hear more about Russia’s propaganda campaign, and more importantly, what we can do to push back against it.  We cannot match the hundreds of millions of dollars the Kremlin is plowing into this effort.  Instead, we must look to creative thinking and broad-based partnerships.

“Given the scale of the Kremlin efforts, it’s clear to me that traditional public affairs and public diplomacy—while important parts of a broader effort—do not go far enough.

“We’ve seen some promising initiatives. For instance, the Governments of Latvia and Estonia are developing a plan to launch Russian-language television networks in their respective countries.  They want to create a platform for content-sharing and establish a fund for the production of locally focused content. Additionally, we anticipate a feasibility study this spring from the European Endowment for Democracy recommending a similar approach.

“But Mr. Chairman, as you recognized, the United States needs its own strategy to deal with this, and we need it now. 

“I’ve been told that our State Department is now working full-tilt toward a plan to address this problem.  This can’t come soon enough.  We’re eager to work with the Administration to develop this plan and set it in motion, because the United States has a major role to play.

“In my view, the United States is in a unique position to convene partners from the private sector that will be essential for the success of such initiatives. Furthermore, U.S. leadership will be necessary to ensuring that reluctant Western European allies understand and appreciate the risks posed by an unchecked Kremlin propaganda campaign.

“One thing is clear: meeting this challenge will certainly not be easy. A non-democratic government in Russia is able to devote nearly limitless resources to spreading lies and sowing confusion, disinformation, and division. But the stakes are high, and acting sooner rather than later will make a daunting task a little easier and much more effective over the long run.

“I look forward to hearing our witness’s views on this challenge, and their ideas about how we’re going to deal with it.

“So, thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing.”