US Congress considers fund to curb Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe

US Congress considers fund to curb Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest May 29, 2017

The US Congress is considering a bill on a $250mn fund to combat Russian influence in European and former Soviet countries. 

The bill's initiators have argued that the Russian government has sought to exert influence throughout Europe and Eurasia, including in the former Soviet states, by providing resources to political parties, think tanks and civil society groups that sow distrust in democratic institutions and actors, promote xenophobic and illiberal views, and otherwise undermine European unity.

The bill, which was introduced to Congress on May 24, proposes the creation of the Countering Russian Influence Fund, whose resources would be used to support countries that are vulnerable to influence by Russia or lack the economic capability to effectively respond to Russian “aggression” without the support of the US. It lists eight countries that are currently participating in EU or Nato enlargement processes, namely Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine, though they will not be the only beneficiaries of the proposed fund.

The fund could also be used to help protect critical infrastructure and electoral mechanisms from cyberattacks in both Nato and EU states and potential members. Other applications would be to combat corruption, improve the rule of law and otherwise strengthen independent judiciaries and prosecutors general offices in the relevant countries. 

The bill was sponsored by the Democratic senator for Maryland Benjamin Cardin. Cardin is ranked first among Democrat senators in terms of leadership (defined as the ability to get co-sponsors for his/her bills) in the 114th Congress, according to a GovTrack project by Civic Impulse NGO. Cardin is also one of the most outspoken critics of Moscow within the US Congress, and a vocal supporter of western sanctions against Russia. 

A US Senate committee has voted to issue an endorsement report on the bill. The procedure are in their early stage, but only about one in four bills are reported out of committee. 

The bill also includes a proposal to recommend that the US president call on Russia withdraw all of its forces from territories including Moldova. 

The bill has already received attention in Moldova, where on May the Constitutional Court issued a ruling confirming the illegal status of Russian troops on Moldovan territory. The court’s ruling stated that the eastern part of the country, namely the separatist republic of Transnistria, was under Russian occupation and said the situation was a threat to Moldova’s constitutional provisions. Separately, the court ruled that Moldova is entitled to take any step, including military steps, to defend and restore the constitutional provisions — a statement received with concern by the Transnistria authorities. 

Their concerns were to some extent addressed by Moldova’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, who criticised the court’s decision as excessive and said it would open the door to “radical interpretations”. But Dodon himself, who won the presidential elections last autumn on a pro-Russian ticket, is viewed with caution by Transnistrian officials. Neither Transnistrian nor Moldovan politicians are ready for the federalisation of Moldova, as proposed by Dodon, the new President of Transnistria Vadim Krasnoselsky said on May 24.