WASHINGTON (CN) – Painting a harrowing picture of Russian hybrid warfare, Eastern European diplomats told members of a Senate committee Tuesday that a strong NATO and a continued U.S. military presence in the region are essential to combat Russian aggression.
"The goal of Russia’s influence and activities in the European Union is to create tensions and sow confusion both between member states and within individual states," said Eerik Marmei, ambassador of Estonia. “By doing so, the Kremlin hopes to influence the decision-making process and steer the narrative and outcomes towards its own interests.”
Addressing members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Marmei added that "Russia sees the problems ailing the European Union - including Brexit, the migrant crisis and the debt crisis - as signs of the weakening of the Western-led world order and it seeks to reconfigure power relationships in international politics.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the hearing of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee as it considers allocating money for a "counter-Russia" account.
Another reason for the hearing, Graham noted, is to find out what it's like to live in Russia's shadow and enduring the former superpower’s relentless attempts at undermining democracy. Graham noted that he does not believe that Russian interference changed the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election, but that America must respond with bipartisan unity.
“It was the Russians who hacked into the Democratic National Committee, it was the Russians who compromised Podesta's emails,” he said with regard to Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. “In my view it was the Russians who provided that information to Wikileaks in an effort to interfere with our election. It is my belief if we forgive and forget regarding our own election, we'll invite future aggression by other countries.”
According to testimony from six diplomats, Russia seeks to sideline NATO and thwart the integration of post-Soviet countries into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community.
"The Kremlin increasingly sees Europe whole, free and at peace, not as an opportunity for prosperous coexistence, but as a threat to its geopolitical agenda and regime survival," Lithuanian ambassador Rolandas Krisciunas said during the hearing.
"Moscow views the Western values - pluralism and openness - as weaknesses to be exploited," he added. “Its tactics are asymmetrical, subversive, and not easily confronted.”
Taking the view the United States has abused its role as a world superpower, Russia is trying to correct the course by diminishing American supremacy and establishing a multipolar international world order, Krisciunas said.
As it demonstrated in its ventures into Georgia, Moldova, eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Polish ambassador Piotr Wilczek said, Russia sometimes uses outright military power to achieve these aims.
Noting the atmosphere of "uncertainty and security” in Ukraine, Wilczek said NATO is the best answer, and that continued American support is key for stability in eastern Europe.
"A long-term American commitment to the enhanced forward presence is absolutely essential," Wilczek said, referring to NATO allied troops deployed in eastern Europe after the Russian annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine.