Fiona Hill, the former top National Security Council expert on Russia, set the record straight on that country’s attack on the 2016 election.
“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country — and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill testified during the House impeachment inquiry last week.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.”
America is not the only nation targeted by Russia. The Kremlin’s assault on elections — democracy’s DNA — is apparent in many Western nations. This includes the United Kingdom, where Brits will have to wait until after the Dec. 12 election for a report on the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Russia will likely try again in the interest of advancing its cynical goals, which Hill starkly described as “to weaken our country — to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President (Vladimir) Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.”
Russia cannot match the U.S., let alone NATO, in military spending, so it’s using asymmetric measures to disrupt the West.
“The Russians have a really dark purpose, which is to undermine democracy,” Richard Stengel, the former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, told an editorial writer. Stengel, a former Time editor and author of “Information Wars: How We Lost The Global Battle Of Disinformation And What We Can Do About It,” added that “we’re still in an era where offensive capabilities are greater than the defensive capabilities, which is worrisome going into a really critical presidential election.”
A recent joint statement from the departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security and other federal entities warned of looming 2020 interference. “Our adversaries want to undermine our democratic institutions, influence public sentiment and affect government policies. Russia, China, Iran and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions,” the statement said.
“An informed public is a resilient public,” the statement added. Stengel agreed on the need for more media literacy as well as more accountability for social media companies. “Every voter in a way is a target of entities that malignly seek to influence them,” Stengel said.
That includes voices here at home, which is a factor Hill highlighted in her testimony. “President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super PAC,” she said. “They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each another, degrade our institutions and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”
Russia’s, not America’s, interests are advanced by the “fictional narrative” that it wasn’t the Kremlin that attacked the U.S. in 2016. On that point, a deeply divided Congress, and country, must agree.
— Star Tribune (Minneapolis)