In my remarks today, I want to put Russia's interference in our election in a broader geopolitical context. In both the US and Europe, the post-war order faces a growing and unprecedented threat. That threat, simply put, is Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Putin's goal is to restore Russia as a dominant power and to recreate a Soviet-style sphere of influence along its border. To that end, his strategy is to disrupt, divide, and weaken the Transatlantic Alliance. The American people need to fully understand what Putin is doing. And, together with our allies, we need to stop him.
As this audience knows very well, over the last decade, the United States and our friends in Europe have witnessed the full spectrum of Russian acts of aggression -- from covert influence campaigns to cyber-attacks to outright military invasions.
Meantime, Russia has dramatically modernized and expanded its military, and regularly deploys forces close to NATO's borders to intimidate our allies. It has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty--the INF Treaty--by deploying ground-launch ballistic and cruise missiles capable of striking targets in Western Europe.
But, Putin dramatically raised the stakes for the US by interfering in our 2016 election. In January, the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report on Russia's activities during the election.
It states: "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." The report continues: "Moscow's influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations -- such as cyber activity -- with overt efforts by Russia's government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or "trolls.'"
These are not opinions or fake news; they are facts. Every American should be outraged. And let's be clear: This outrage isn't about party or partisanship. It's about patriotism and defending America's democracy, which is under attack.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last December, Dr. Robert Karan of Brookings said that Russia's goal is to subvert Western democracies. He said, "For the United States to ignore this Russian tactic, and particularly now that it has been deployed against the United States, is to cede to Moscow a powerful tool of modern geopolitical warfare."
Researchers have traced countless false news stories to a common source: the Kremlin's $1.4 billion propaganda machine, which reaches some 600 million people across 130 countries and in 30 languages. The Associated Press identified a building in Moscow where an estimated 400 Internet trolls -- fluent in English and well-versed in American politics -- work 12-hour shifts creating narratives and false news stories.
These stories are seeded on the Internet, get validated and passed on by popular websites, and eventually end up on our radios, TVs, and smart-phone screens.
Remember when President Trump tweeted that former President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower? The suspected original source for that allegation was a fake-news story on RT News, the Russian international TV network.
An influential Russian strategist, General Valery Gerasimov, has written that future Russian wars will be fought with a four-to-one ratio of nonmilitary to military actions. Nonmilitary measures -- propaganda, fake news stories, and so on -- will "shape the political and social landscape" of the targeted country.
Today, Russia is working hard to "shape the political and social landscape" in Europe. It is stoking populist nationalism across Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and working to destabilize countries that seek closer ties to the West. In February, at the annual Munich Security Conference, our Congressional delegation met with Prime Minister Ðjukanovi? of Montenegro, who led his country's successful effort to join NATO.
The Prime Minister described in vivid detail Russian efforts to assassinate him and install a pro-Kremlin party in a coup attempt to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.
Of course, we are especially concerned about Putin's interference in critical elections this year in France and Germany. The director of Germany's equivalent of the FBI told the New York Times that he has seen an increase in "aggressive cyber-espionage' targeting German politicians. In the French election, Putin openly supports Marine Le Pen, who has threatened to take France out of the European Union. A Russian bank has lent millions of euros to her campaign. And, on Tuesday, a London-based security firm reported that the most recent cyberattacks on the presidential front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, carried the same digital fingerprints as the Russian group that hacked the Democratic National Committee last year.
Despite the evidence, President Trump continues to publicly reject the idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. And his statements have had a disturbing impact on public opinion. A CBS News poll in late March found that 64 percent of Republicans deny that Russia interfered in our election. The danger is that partisan divisions will allow Putin to interfere in our election with no punishment or consequences.
An even more dangerous prospect is that Russian interference in American elections could become normalized.
If Russia gets a pass, it will interfere in future US elections not only at the presidential level, but also at the Senate and House level. In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last month, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers said, "I fully expect them to continue this level of activity because [our] sense is that they have come to the conclusion that it generated a positive outcome for them."
Again, this should outrage every patriotic American. Our country has been attacked by Russia. We must be united around one question: How do we prevent a recurrence of Putin's interference in our election?
For starters, the American public needs to know the facts about Putin's interference. What did the Russians do and how did they do it? The last time our country was attacked, on 9/11, we created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States. That commission was tasked with preparing a full and complete account of the 9/11 attacks and providing recommendations to guard against future attacks.
We need exactly this kind of independent commission to investigate the Russian attack on our democracy and to prevent future attacks.
On Monday, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 73 percent of Americans want an independent, non-partisan commission instead of Congress to investigate Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. This poll was conducted before the Reuters report on Monday that the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation has made only "minimal" progress and has only seven staffers.
But Putin's challenge to us is about more than hacking America's democracy. The architecture of alliances and partnerships that has been at the heart of America's national security for more than seven decades is also at risk.
We need a bolder, more aggressive strategy for punishing Russia and countering its efforts to undermine our democracies.
I believe this strategy should have at least four components: imposing more rigorous sanctions, bolstering NATO and our allies, demonstrating stronger support for Ukraine, and countering the Russian propaganda juggernaut.
First, on sanctions. I have joined with a bipartisan group of Senators led by John McCain and Ben Cardin to advance legislation imposing new, tougher, comprehensive sanctions on Russia--including on their energy sector.
Second, in concert with our NATO allies, we need to continue to counter Russia militarily.
At the NATO summit in Warsaw last summer, the alliance ratified decisions to deploy multinational battalions -- including U.S. troops and armor -- to the Baltic states and Eastern Europe. At the NATO summit next month in Brussels, we need to do more, including formally calling Russia to account for violating the INF nuclear treaty.
Third, we need to redouble our support for Ukraine. Ukraine was attacked because it dared to chart an independent, pro-Western course. Putin clearly sees Ukraine as a proxy -- a place to set an example:
If Russia can violate Ukraine's sovereignty, then it can do the same to other countries formerly in the Soviet Union or its sphere of influence. Conversely, if Ukrainian democracy succeeds, this would send a hopeful message to pro-democracy activists even in Russia. Dan Baer, former ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told our Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "the greatest way to support the future of democracy in Russia is to support the democratic future that is being built in Ukraine today."
Finally, the US and Europe must be more aggressive in exposing and countering Russia's propaganda machine. The McCain-Cardin sanctions legislation would create a European Democracy Initiative that, among other things, would support objective, Russian-language, independent media and watchdog groups working to combat corruption.
Regrettably, the Trump administration has proposed draconian cuts to the State Department budget, as well as the elimination of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other news sources that are trusted and listened to within Russia. This is a mistake.
We should be committing more resources, not less, to these successful efforts to challenge Russia in the information space.
We also need to expose Russian disinformation here in the US. For example, following the chemical attacks on Syrian civilians early this month, RT News promoted Russia's claim that rebel groups, not the Assad regime, were responsible. It's time to unmask RT News which spends $400 million on its Washington Bureau alone and has more YouTube subscribers than any other broadcaster.
To that end, I have introduced legislation to prevent RT from using a shell corporation to dodge US laws and to require documentation on their funding sources and foreign connections.
Russia's interference in the 2016 election is a profound test for our country. We must honestly acknowledge that democracy -- and democratic values -- are under attack in both Europe and the United States. In his inaugural address President Kennedy, speaking in a Cold War context, said, "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger." Today, ladies and gentlemen, it's our turn.
I believe that our great democracies and the Transatlantic Alliance are worth fighting for.
We can not allow partisanship to prevent us from taking action. We must respond because our national security and our democracy are at stake! Thank you.