European leaders voice support for State, USAID efforts

European leaders voice support for State, USAID efforts
© Keren Carrion

Officials from several eastern and central European countries threatened by Russia urged the Senate on Tuesday not to give up on non-military efforts to influence Moscow.

The show of support comes as the Trump administration reportedly considers a proposal to cut the State Department budget by as much as 37 percent and shifting those and other funds to the military. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin asked the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations for more weapons to fend off Russia in Crimea, but also to maintain sanctions on Russia for its incursion on Ukrainian soil. 

“Until Russia gets off of Ukrainian land, there must be no easing up of sanctions. If anything, they must be increased,” he said. 

The eastern European emissaries also praised soft power programs like Fulbright scholarships and Voice of America programming. 

“I myself am still old enough to remember the Soviet times, when my father was listening to Radio Free Europe,” said Lithuanian Ambassador Rolandas Krisciunas. 

"I know what kind of impact that was … It was really the word of freedom. And the more of the word of freedom you can spread through the region, the more secure region it will be because you will destroy the monopoly on news," he said.

Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Defense: Senate sides with Trump on military role in Yemen | Dem vets push for new war authorization on Iraq anniversary | General says time isn't 'right' for space corps Water has experienced a decade of bipartisan success Protecting American innovation MORE (D-Del.) pointedly asked about cutting back support for State Department and USAID programs. 

“Would you feel safer in the face of an aggressive Russia if we were to cut back on programs we discussed, like Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and programs that support more resilience both in terms of your governance, democracy and institutions and in terms of sustainment of some of the development initiatives?” he asked.

“Sen. Coons, I think these are just rhetorical questions,” Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek responded.

"We would not feel safer if those budgets were cut. We hope it’s just deliberations – tweeting – not really a decision because it sounds really dangerous," he said. “American leadership in this region is essential and you know this very well."

Leaders also praised the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program, and Defense’s European Reassurance Initiative.

Lawmakers said the hearing served as an opportunity to gather information to develop strategies regarding Russia and reiterate U.S. support for defense of European allies.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSteyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Trump formally sends Pompeo nomination to Senate GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-S.C.), the subcommittee chairman, said he worried Russia was becoming increasingly brazen, and floated setting aside money to focus on the issue.

“Money is tight, but I think it would be a good investment to have a counter-Russia account to put some money aside – maybe a cyber security assistance, maybe a straight assistance – whatever it is that we can help you withstand this assault on your democracies by Russia,” said Graham in his opening statement.

“And that is the goal. To understand what’s going on and to do something about it. And to each of you, thank you for coming to the Subcommittee. I think if we can come together and produce a product, history will judge us well.

The theme was repeated throughout the hearing. 

“I want you to know, not everyone in this country is praising Vladimir Putin,” said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGraham calls for Senate Judiciary hearing on McCabe firing McCabe firing roils Washington Judiciary Dem calls for hearing on Trump's FBI attacks MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the panel. “I don’t. The chairman doesn’t.”