February 2, 2018

Senate report exposes Putin’s ‘assault on democracy,’ includes analysis on Ukraine

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CHICAGO – An extensive section on Ukraine has been included in the report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations titled “Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe: Implications for U.S. National Security.” The report issued on January 10 was prepared as a minority staff report.

Highlights of the Ukraine section include the following.

• Cybersecurity cooperation can reap benefits for the United States: The Russian cyberassault on Ukraine has been relentless and multi-faceted since 2014. Ukraine is where the Russian government experiments and sees what can work. The United States and others in the international community have taken steps to help Ukraine build its defenses, but this cooperation can also offer insight into how the Russian government conducts these operations and thus provide a forecast for the types of attacks we will see in the future. Cooperation with Ukraine to counter these threats is a critically important element of building U.S. defenses.

• Countering disinformation begins with awareness: Civil society organizations like StopFake have led the way in developing innovative techniques to dispel lies in the media, which has in turn helped to build resilience and skepticism among the Ukrainian population. This critical-thinking ability is the first step towards blunting the effect of lies from Moscow. NGOs in vulnerable countries should look to StopFake as a model, not only for the effectiveness of its techniques, but the courage of its staff.

• Civil society matters: Since the 2014 Euro-Maidan demonstrations, civil society organizations in Ukraine have played a key watchdog role in holding the government accountable and calling for reform. Pressure from the Ukrainian people channeled through these groups has led to concrete reforms, particularly in building anti-corruption institutions. International efforts to support civil society in Ukraine are critical; even though they have grown in strength and effectiveness, these groups still face pressure from anti-reform elements in the country.

• Corruption is Russia’s best weapon in Ukraine: The best defense against the Russian government’s asymmetric arsenal in Ukraine, and indeed across Europe, is the existence of durable democratic institutions that are less susceptible to corruption. While the Ukrainian government has established credible anti-corruption institutions, resistance to genuine reform remains very strong and Ukraine has yet to embark on significant efforts to prosecute some of the country’s most egregious corrupt actors. Until Ukraine shows the political will to confront corruption, the country will remain dangerously vulnerable to Russian aggression.

• High-level U.S. engagement is key: The Obama administration, primarily through former Vice-President Joe Biden’s personal engagement, was instrumental in pressuring the Ukrainian government to reform despite the attendant political difficulties in making such decisions. This approach garnered results, but sustainable progress can only come with consistent engagement and pressure from the United States.

• Sanctions pressure has been insufficient: Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union have not resulted in the implementation of the Minsk agreements or the return of Crimea to Ukrainian control. The Russian government appears to have been able to resist this pressure because the cost imposed by sanctions has been manageable. In order to achieve the desired outcomes of the Minsk agreements and return Crimea to Ukrainian control, the U.S. government should significantly increase pressure and use the mandates and authorities outlined in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to ramp up sanctions on pro-Kremlin entities in concert with the European Union.

The full report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations may be read here: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/FinalRR.pdf.

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