Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing on the events in Montenegro and the Russian malign influence threat in Europe.  Let me add my welcome to our witnesses and thank them for appearing this morning. 

The events in Montenegro are deeply concerning both for their impact within that country and their broader implications.  While a full accounting of what happened must await the results of the criminal trial, the case laid out in the Montenegrin indictment already makes clear that these events fit a pattern of Russian aggression that has occurred repeatedly across Europe and in the United States.  Again and again, Russia has used the range of coercive tools at its disposal – including political pressure; economic manipulation; collaboration with corrupt local networks; propaganda, deception and denials; and increasingly, military force – to try to intimidate democratic countries and undermine the further integration of NATO, the European Union, and other Western institutions.  Disturbingly, Russia’s plotting with proxies inside Montenegro in a failed attempt to overthrow the pro-Western government and assassinate the prime minister, marks a dangerous escalation of its malign influence activities. 

Additionally, Russia’s menacing actions in Montenegro have implications for other Balkan nations, including Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.  We should do all we can to ensure that Montenegro’s accession to NATO sends a clear signal to other countries in the region that NATO maintains its Open Door Policy, so that other countries can aspire to NATO membership without the fear of becoming the target of violent Russian aggression. 

A critical question for our witnesses is how the United States and its European partners should counter the Russian malign influence threat.  In January, the unanimous conclusion of our 17 intelligence agencies was that President Putin directed an influence campaign against the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, with the aims of undermining the American people’s faith in the election process.  The intelligence community also warned that the significant escalation in Russian levels of interference in U.S. and European elections represents a “new normal”.

As long as Moscow believes that its actions in the United States and Europe will be consequence-free, Putin and his associates will continue to escalate Russia’s hybrid tactics against us and our partners to advance their interests.  We have a duty to confront Russia over its malign activities to protect our national security. 

Unfortunately, despite mounting evidence, the White House fails to recognize the seriousness of the national security threat posed by Russia’s malign influence activities.  President Trump continues cast doubt on the unanimous conclusion of our intelligence community and has failed to direct that the Kremlin be held accountable for its actions to damage our democratic processes.   Numerous witnesses have testified to Congress, including Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Mattis, that they have received no guidance from President Trump on a strategy for countering interference with our elections. 

President Trump’s recent meeting with President Putin at the G20 was another missed opportunity to deliver a clear message to the Kremlin that its attacks on our democracy are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.  Instead of confronting the Russian President, President Trump appeased Putin, accepting at face value his denials that Russia had interfered with the U.S. elections.  This will only encourage further reckless Kremlin adventurism toward its neighboring states and efforts to claim a Great Power role in the Middle East and elsewhere.    

Now is certainly not the time to ignore Russian interference in elections in Montenegro, France, Germany, the United States, or elsewhere, and simply “move forward.”  Fortunately, the U.S. Senate has stepped up to provide leadership on this issue.  Recently an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate passed long-overdue Russian sanctions.  This legislation would codify existing sanctions and expand authorities for additional ones.  It is now incumbent upon the House to pass the Russians sanctions bill without delay and send it to the President for his signature.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about additional efforts that are needed to craft a whole-of-government strategy to defend against and deter this growing Russian threat.  Also, I hope you will address how the United States might coordinate with our allies and partners, many of whom have decades of experience in this fight, to effectively counter the Russian malign influence threat while remaining true to the core values and principles that the United States upholds.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.