Congress on May 4 authorized a new effort to counter «Russian influence and aggression» and to support civil society organizations in Europe and Eurasia. The lawmakers also backed a measure imposing new restrictions and oversight on Russian diplomats in the United States. The provisions are part of the $1.1 trillion budget to fund the federal government for 2017 backed by Senate. The bill is expected to head to the president’s desk soon.
Lawmakers earmarked $100 million for a new «Countering Russian Influence Fund», which specifically targets the money toward civil society groups that «strengthen democratic institutions and processes, and counter Russian influence and «aggression». The legislation also provides funds for the so-called Eastern Partnership countries – a European Union program with the ex-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. The funds will reduce their EU’s «vulnerability to external economic and political pressure from the Russian Federation».
The bill requires the president to set up an interagency committee to counter Russian activities. The new committee is to meet on a regular basis. Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of the Act, the committee is to submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report describing steps being taken to counter «active measures by Russia to exert covert influence».
It all brings to memory the days of McCarthyism – a shameful period of recent American history. This new body is to be modeled after its Cold War predecessor – the Active Measures Working Group, which operated at the height of the Cold War, when some mid-level officials in the US State Department sought a more robust effort to counter «aggressive Soviet propaganda».
An intelligence authorization measure also tucked into the bill tightens oversight of Russian diplomats in the United States. It requires the State Department, the FBI, and the Director of National Intelligence to set up a procedure that would essentially obligate Russian diplomats to give the FBI advance warning about travels beyond the embassy and consulates’ immediate geographic territory.
This is outright discrimination. As a general rule, members of foreign embassies and consular posts are permitted to travel freely around the United States. The inclusion of the provisions comes just one day after President Trump downplayed the impact of Russian information operations on the 2016 presidential election.
A cursory look at the recent history of Russia-US leads to the conclusion that the provisions in question are part of a broader picture. According to the 2015 Intelligence Authorization Act, all Russian nationals holding supervisory positions at US embassy and consulates in Russia were replaced with American citizens. It required US diplomatic centers in Russia, and any other country that shares a land border with the Russian Federation, to have a «sensitive compartmented information facility». The male embassy employees, including Marines guarding the embassy, were forbidden to make acquaintances with Russian women!
Before the 2016 elections, Russian diplomats were warned of criminal charges to be brought against them if they appear at polling stations to get acquainted with US election process. Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana turned down the request from the Russian consulate in Houston.
It took place after US observers were invited to monitor the Russia’s September 2016 parliamentary and local elections. In addition, US representatives visited Russia earlier as part of an OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ monitoring mission.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibits spending money for any cooperation with Moscow. It also imposes limitations on the funds that the Defense Department can dedicate to enable confidence-building measures, such as surveillance flights by Russia over US territories or anywhere covered by the Open Skies Treaty. The Defense Department would have to provide Congress with a »specified certification and report» to allow Moscow a surveillance flight or certification event of an aircraft equipped with an upgraded sensor. It puts forward the demand to permit overflights by covered state parties over all of Moscow, Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Kaliningrad without restriction and without inconsistency to requirements under the Open Skies Treaty. The 1992 treaty, effective since the start of 2002, applies only to the national territories of the participants. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not Russia, they are independent states.
Introduced in January, the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act is still a bill to be considered by Congress. There is no evidence whatsoever of Russia interference into the US elections but the bill has already been submitted for consideration as a retaliatory measure against Moscow.
The Congress is obviously trying to prevent any improvement of the US relations with Russia – the country Henry Kissinger, the American foreign policy veteran, considers to be «an essential element of any new global equilibrium». The legislations voted for or under consideration pursue the goal of hindering any steps Donald Trump might take to normalize the relationship, despite the fact that this agenda was supported by American voters.