Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Hearing. Testimony by Eerik Marmei Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States of America.
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Hearing
March 7, 2017
Testimony by Eerik Marmei
Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to the United States of America
Chairman Graham, Ranking Member Leahy, members of the Committee, Thank you for the invitation to testify before the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. It is an honor to be here.
First, let me emphasize how important the United States’ steadfast support for the freedom and independence of Estonia has been. Our membership in Euroatlantic instutitions is the cornerstone of our prosperity and security and we are mindful of the role the US has played in supporting and assisting us.
As Russia’s immediate neighbor, Estonia would like nothing more than to have good relations with a democratic Russia, including prosperous trade and active everyday relations at all levels of society. But shared commitment to the core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are indispensable pillars for good-neighborly relations.
We shouldn’t be guided by wishful thinking but by real facts. Examples of Russia’s malign activities in Europe, to name but a few, include the Russia-Georgia war, the annexation of Crimea, the war in Eastern Ukraine, provocative activities by the Russian military, and interference in Western democratic processes, including elections.
We have learned that inadequate responses to such behavior can only feed future transgressions.
I would like to stress that Russia’s ambitions and activities are not only of concern to NATO’s eastern flank or the countries represented at this hearing, but are influencing all our allies in the West. Therefore, it is essential not to regionalize the Russian threat to Eastern European countries, but to clearly recognize that the threat of Russia’s subversive methods has expanded far beyond the “Eastern flank” of Europe, including to the United States. We, as neighbors to Russia, are just a bit more used to witnessing such behavior. Upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany are a perfect theatre for the Russian disinformation warriors.
The goal of Russia’s influence and activities in Europe is to create tensions and sow confusion both between European Union member states and within individual states. By doing so, the Kremlin hopes to influence the decision-making process and steer the narrative and outcomes towards its own interests.
The illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014 succeeded largely because of a successful information war that allowed Russia to avoid a direct military confrontation. It can be expected that Russia will use this tactic - extensive manipulation of information to support its military goals in order to achieve strategic advantage - in the future as well. This forces the adversary to doubt and verify the facts, thus delaying its response.
The unity of the West, joint action and the decision to stay the course towards Russia, has been the strongest message in response to Russian actions so far. To be credible we need to stand by our values and be consistent in our policies. We need to take into account that Russia sees itself being in a confrontational era with the West for a long time.
We, the West, need to address the subversive actions in a systematic and coordinated way within the EU and NATO, but also in cooperation between these two organizations. This should be done in very practical terms: we need to share more intelligence on Russia´s subversive methods - to decode “the Russian hybrid method playbook”. We need to raise the awareness of decision makers and the public at large in order to limit the ability to abuse the open nature of our societies. We can do it by exposing or countering Russia’s malign tactics such as covert support to political parties and politicians, seemingly innocent NGO-s or economic leverage gained through murky business connections. Also, transparency regulation and anti-corruption measures can and should be strengthened.
The Kremlin makes extensive use of Russian- and foreign-language media outlets, as well as countless fake social media accounts. Merely constant reactions to propaganda is not enough and can sometimes even be counter-effective. The quality of strategic communication capabilities and the formation of our own messages needs to be improved. The effect of disinformation can be diminished by enhancing critical reading skills within intended audiences. The best medicine against disinformation is an open and free, high-quality and pluralistic media environment offering a variety of voices and opinions.
I firmly believe this subcommittee plays an important role in effecting positive change in areas I’ve described above. Funding for initiatives that fall under the State Department, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the National Endowment for Democracy, to mention but a few, can all contribute to building capability and resilience in Europe in order to counter changes Russia is trying to achieve.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide you with my thoughts and I look forward to answering your questions.