Everyone agrees Russia has been working to undermine our democracy, as well as democracies throughout Europe, including Central and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, too many Americans and elected officials have been distracted from Russia's treachery because of the pitched battle regarding Putin's involvement in the 2016 presidential race in the United States.
Make no mistake — Putin and his gang of oligarchs pose a real threat to democratic governments, including ours. And while Putin may target democracies, he’s not doing so to promote an ideology, like communism. This is about greed, power and expanding Putin’s sphere of influence. He’s the head of his own personal mafia, except he has an entire government supporting his vast and expanding criminal enterprise.
Many refuse to speak out over this because of the partisan lines drawn on the debate over the 2016 election. The time for silence is over. This is not about President Trump, and it’s not about Democrats versus Republicans. Americans of all political backgrounds must work together to safeguard our democracy and those of our allies.
It’s with this in mind that I am proud to announce that we have a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives, which, if signed into law, can focus some of our nation’s resources on uncovering and thwarting Putin and his cronies’ illicit activities.
While we battle here in America over interference in our election, we cannot ignore that Putin and his ring of oligarchs’ malfeasance has been growing and now requires urgent action. Russia has used funds to support extreme political parties and entities in the United Kingdom, France, Austria and Germany in order to sway election outcomes. In 2015, Russian gas king Gazprom was accused of using price gouging on Eastern European countries like Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria and Lithuania, who, at the time, relied on Russian gas for over half of their needs.
In a letter to the White House in 2009, Central and Eastern European leaders warned that Russia engages in economic warfare by using politically motivated investments and bribery to advance its agenda, and seeks to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe. In the meantime, Ukraine, Georgia and Baltic nations are under constant threat from Russian military aggression. We all remember Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which led to the illegal occupation of Crimea.
But corruption is also a major part of Russia’s hybrid warfare strategy. By capturing host countries’ economies, Russia is able to intimidate and influence their policies and positions, which eventually could limit their ability to act independently. To combat this aggression, the U.S. must strengthen governance and institutions to prevent Russia’s virus-like corruption from eroding democracy here and in Europe.
The question becomes, how do we accomplish this goal? For me, it starts by Republicans and Democrats setting aside partisan differences and working together.
I’m happy to report that we’ve successfully jumped that first hurdle. H.R. 2820 has been originally cosponsored by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and French Hill (R-Ark.). We all understand the very serious threats happening to western democracies right now.
Our legislation would establish within the State Department the Office of Anti-Corruption Relating to Illicit Russian Financial Activities in Europe, which would analyze Russia’s financial networks in Europe relating to investments in strategic sectors, including real estate, energy, media and infrastructure, among others. They’ll work with the Treasury Department to train U.S. diplomats in working with foreign partners in uncovering and prosecuting illegal Russian financial activity, among other things. The office will also work with our NATO allies in elevating anti-corruption as part of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan.
Much like during the Cold War, Europe has become the front line for combatting Russian aggression. However, today’s situation offers less transparency than Cold War-style hostility. Money laundering, wire transfers, strategic investments and the viral effects of fake news all quietly fuse together to undermine our democratic infrastructure.
It’s not enough for the U.S. to act alone here at home. We can’t win this battle on our own. We’ll need to coordinate with our allies throughout every corner of Europe so we can identify and crush these threats before our democratic institutions become corrupted.
We’re all entitled to our own opinions over the nature of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the U.S. Senate last week. But there was one thing he said that I believe all of us know to be true.
When referring to Russia, Comey stated, “We’re talking about a foreign government that, using technical intrusion and lots of other methods, tried to shape the way we think, we vote, we act. That is a big deal. And people need to recognize it. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats.”
I couldn’t agree more, and it’s refreshing to know that we have Republicans in Congress who are ready to join this fight to preserve our freedom. Let’s send a powerful message to Putin that we won’t be intimidated, that we cherish our democratic freedoms, and most importantly, that we’re all in this together — as Americans.
Suozzi represents New York's 3rd District and is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.