September 06, 2018

Brown Opening Statement at Banking Committee Hearing on Russia Sanctions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – delivered the following opening statement at today’s hearing entitled ‘Outside Perspectives on Russia Sanctions: Current Effectiveness and Potential for Next Steps’.

Sen. Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Today we gather to further assess Russia’s persistent efforts to attack the US and our allies via cyber, influence and other campaigns directed at our most critical infrastructure; and to develop ways to strengthen US responses to those attacks. 

In our first hearing, senior Administration officials testified on sanctions and the protection of critical infrastructure. Directly following that hearing, all Senators had an opportunity to be briefed at a classified level on preparations by the federal government, working in cooperation with state and local authorities, to secure our electoral process for the upcoming mid-term elections.

Today we’ll hear outside perspectives on the effectiveness of US sanctions, and on new tools, including new sanctions authorities that might usefully be deployed against Russian attackers. Bolstering that sanctions toolbox – and then ensuring the tools are actually used to get the job done – is critical.

We’ll hear from those outside the administration -- including witnesses with extensive and distinguished diplomatic experience in dealing with Russia under Republican and Democratic administrations over decades -- what they think will most likely dissuade the Russians from continuing these attacks.

While sanctions have had some effect on Russia’s economy, as they have been applied it’s not clear they are doing much to actually change Russian behavior. And that, after all, is the goal. Sanctions are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We seek real and immediate changes in Russian behavior, and we are not yet seeing it.

There is little dispute sanctions are not yet having their intended  effect: Russia remains in Crimea, its proxies are still in eastern Ukraine, it continues to support Assad in Syria, and to attack our elections and other critical infrastructure using sophisticated cyber weapons. It has attempted to assassinate British citizens with a chemical weapon, and killed an innocent bystander in the process. It has fostered sanctions evasion and other illicit activity around the world.

Some of today’s witnesses – including those with deep bipartisan experience in US-Russia relations -- have been critical of the administration’s efforts to date, arguing they have been inadequate and are undercut by President Trump’s reluctance to criticize Putin and his government.

President Trump’s efforts to try to undermine what are established conclusions of fact by the US intelligence community about Russia’s involvement are well documented. And Russian attacks on our elections and critical infrastructure like energy plants, utility systems, aviation, manufacturing and private sector business systems are continuing.

As our next elections approach, it is long past time for the President and Congress together to send a much more powerful and direct message to Putin and those within his circles: If you continue cyber-attacks against us, you and your government will pay a heavy economic, diplomatic and political price.

As Ambassador McFaul notes in his testimony today, there’s a tension between what sanctions professionals at Treasury and State are doing and saying, and what the President is doing on Russia.

Our government needs to speak with one voice.  The President should clearly state how he will use CAATSA to forcefully respond to Russian attacks, issue an executive order that clearly outlines the sanctions consequences for continuing attacks, and implement that order if attacks continue. 

In addition to urging the administration to use CAATSA more effectively, I think most of us agree Congress should also do more. Congress crafted these tough Russia sanctions, enacted last August by overwhelming majorities in both chambers. We should build on that bipartisan consensus.

Today we should focus with these experts on the broader strategic questions: What active cyber-attacks are the Russians directing against our elections and critical infrastructure? And what range of powerful economic, trade, financial, diplomatic and political tools can we deploy now to deter those threats?

What will it take to actually deter Putin, by sharply increasing the price he must pay for them? I know those are the questions my constituents are asking. Our large Ukrainian community in Ohio knows firsthand the dangers of Russian aggression.

This hearing should be an opportunity to get answers from those long involved in US-Russia policy. I especially welcome our distinguished former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who has had his own recent political and legal struggles with Mr. Putin, but has acquitted himself gracefully throughout.

I welcome Ambassador Fried, former sanctions coordinator at State with a distinguished record of decades of bipartisan service in US-Russia policy.  Ms. Rachel Ziemba has done extensive economic research on sanctions policies and their effects, as has Ms. Heather Conley of C-S-I-S.  I look forward to hearing what effects you think current sanctions are having on Russia’s economy and behavior, and your ideas on how we should more forcefully confront the threats posed by Russia. 


Thank you Mr. Chairman.