March 15, 2017

Brown Opening Statement at Hearing to Assess U.S. Sanctions on Russia

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement at today’s hearing entitled, “Assessing U.S. Sanctions on Russia: Next Steps.” 

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

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement
Hearing: “Assessing U.S. Sanctions on Russia: Next Steps”  
March 15, 2017 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this important hearing, and for your willingness to explore on a bipartisan basis how the current U.S. and multilateral sanctions regime is working, and possible next steps to strengthen it while preserving unity with our allies.  

Congress has worked together – Republicans and Democrats – to craft the current U.S. sanctions regime, and to hold Russia accountable for a long line of misdeeds, from its violations of international law and of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine; to its role in the brutal repression in the war in Syria, and its cyber-attacks on the U.S.  

More recently Russia has engaged in efforts to influence our elections and systematically sow disinformation here at home.  We should focus now on what the Committee might do to strengthen our response to Russia for the actions I mentioned, and for its continuing efforts to destabilize states in Europe, including the Balkans, and beyond.

Russia’s interference in our elections, confirmed unanimously by the U.S. intelligence community in a declassified report issued in early January, poses a problem that goes far beyond foreign policy, and strikes at the core of our democracy. 

As the joint report makes clear in its opening sentences, there is no disagreement within the U.S. intelligence community about what happened here. None. Zero. They said:

“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

The report then went on to note similar efforts would likely be undertaken by Russia against U.S. allies and others:

“We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”

While we have begun to impose sanctions for Russia’s cyber-attacks, we have not yet responded to its interference with our electoral process.

The Ukrainian community in Ohio and around the world knows firsthand the dangers of unchecked Russian aggression. We should strengthen – not weaken – Russian sanctions, and the President must work with Congress on a Russia policy that is clear-eyed about our adversaries and their behavior.

In Syria, the UN and others have charged Syrian military units and allied Russian forces with war crimes, including attacks on hospitals and an aid convoy, and indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations in eastern Aleppo.

The recent escalation of violence by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and the lack of a consistent policy to deter further Russian aggression is also dangerous. Since Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, exactly three years ago this week, there have been at least 10,000 dead, 20,000 wounded, and two million internally displaced, according to estimates by the United Nations. The situation remains unstable, with nearly 300,000 ceasefire violations in 2016, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It seems clear from the surge of violence since the U.S. elections that Russia is testing our resolve to support the Ukrainian government and people. We must leave no doubt that Russia must comply with the Minsk Agreement. Until it does, Russia deserves no sanctions relief for the conflict it created and continues to fuel.

I hope the President will end any ambiguity in our policy, in both his words and in the vigorous enforcement and strengthening of current sanctions.

So far, he has sent mixed signals. On one hand, he raises questions about moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia, and flirts publicly with relaxing Russian sanctions. On the other hand, he has said he intends -- for now -- to maintain U.S. sanctions, and U.S. UN Ambassador Haley has condemned Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Today we are joined by three sanctions experts who will help us assess where we are and what effects the current sanctions regime is having on Russia’s economy and behavior. We will also discuss how stricter sanctions enforcement, closing administrative loopholes, strengthening statutory requirements where appropriate, and other measures can send a clear, unambiguous signal of our resolve.

I welcome our witnesses, and thank you all for joining us today to share with us your expertise.