01:57 - Source: CNN
Graham: Funding other democracies helps US

Story highlights

Ambassadors from five countries testify about Moscow's intimidation

The diplomats appealed for continued US support amid possible cuts

(CNN) —  

Representatives of key American allies in Eastern Europe called for strong US pushback against Russia at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

Moscow poses a threat “to the whole Western world, the trans-Atlantic alliance,” Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin told a Senate subcommittee. “The cyberwar is going on every day, all the time, and it’s a threat to everyone because it doesn’t matter how far you are from the Kremlin, you can be 500 miles or 5,000 miles.”

He warned: “Everyone is vulnerable.”

Estonian Ambassador to the US Eerik Marmei added that the US and others shouldn’t “be guided by wishful thinking” about Russia and should watch for its attempts to disrupt upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called the hearing to “broaden the understanding” of Russia’s policies and intentions toward the Eastern European countries who participated. But there was no escaping the domestic subtext: Both branches of Congress are investigating alleged Russian cyberattacks on the 2016 US election, while the FBI is conducting multiple investigations of alleged connections between President Donald Trump’s associates and Moscow.

At the same time, the State Department budget could be cut by as much as 37%.

Graham chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign operations, in which capacity he said he would push for a “soft power account” to help counter the tools Russia uses against democracies.

The diplomats testifying Tuesday appealed for continued US support for such “soft power” initiatives, including Radio Free Europe and the Fulbright exchange programs, which project US power and a US voice into their regions and which might be cut by the Trump administration.

“We will not feel safer when the budgets for such projects will be essentially cut,” said Polish Ambassador Piotr Wilczek.

Graham has pressed hard on Moscow even as Trump has downplayed Russian activities and urged better relations with Russian officials. The senator has led Senate Republicans with his calls to probe Russian efforts to interfere in the US election, highlighting Moscow’s efforts to counter US initiatives across the world and disrupting America’s allies. Within the last month, Russian planes buzzed a US Navy vessel and NATO aircraft.

The South Carolina senator has said he’d largely use his position on the Judiciary Committee to pursue Russia inquiries, and is backing two bills. The Counteracting Russian Activities Act, which has 10 Republican and 10 Democratic backers, would punish Russia for its cyberattacks during the US election. The Russia Review Act would make require that Congress weigh in before any sanctions on Russia can be waived.

The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment on the European officials’ charges.

At the hearing, however, Graham told the European officials that he’d just come from a lunch with the President and that, “I think you’re going to have a good ally in President Trump, in terms of having a rotational troop presence, that the Ukraine will be helped more, not less, and we will push back.”

He also told them that he wanted to “give you some hope in the region that America’s back.”