L'Ukraine a déposé dans l'après-midi du 16 janvier 2017 au greffe de la Cour internationale de justice une requête dirigée contre la Russie accompagnée d'une demande de mesures conservatoires. On ne considérera pas comme anodin le choix de la dernière semaine du mandat du Président Obama pour concrétiser ce projet. Dans cette période de grande incertitude, chacun prend ses marques et s'efforce de peser sur le cours des événements. Le fait d'impliquer la Cour mondiale dans les différends qui opposent l'Ukraine et la Russie au sujet des activités de cette dernière en Crimée et dans l'Est ukrainien (Donbass) peut effectivement avoir une influence concrète : une condamnation judiciaire de ces agissements placerait ceux qui souhaitent aujourd'hui tourner la page des événements de 2014 dans une position inconfortable.
L'Ukraine avait annoncé cette saisine de la CIJ il y a plus d'un an et elle était déjà dans l'air en 2014 : "Ukraine vs. Russia in International Courts and Tribunals", Gaiane Nuridzhanyan, EJIL talk, March 9, 2016. Le ministre de la justice annonce que d'autres actions seraient entreprises en 2017. L'Ukraine poursuit ainsi sa politique définie en 2014 d'utilisation systématique des recours là où la Russie a consenti à une juridiction obligatoire.
On remarque que l'Ukraine a déjà engrangé un premier succès avec le jugement rendu par la Cour de district d'Amsterdam dans l'affaire du Trésor scythe. En effet le 14 décembre dernier cette juridiction a décidé que les objets antiques prêtés par les musées de Crimée devaient être restitués par l'Université d'Amsterdam à l'Ukraine. Le Musée archéologique Allard Pierson relevant de l'Université avait organisé en février 2014 une exposition sur le thème « Crimée : or et secrets de la mer Noire ». Un musée de Kiev et quatre musées de Crimée avait prêté ces pièces archéologiques en or. En raison de l'évolution de la situation dans la presqu'île, le musée néerlandais a refusé de renvoyer les objets en Crimée. Commentant le jugement, le ministre russe de la culture estime que
« On assiste, malheureusement, à une violation des droits des établissements de culture et à une tentative de rupture de l'intégrité des collections de musée. Cette décision judiciaire contredit non seulement les clauses des contrats signés, mais viole aussi grossièrement les principes mêmes des échanges internationaux entre les musées et le droit du peuple de Crimée à l'accès à son propre patrimoine culturel ».
Du côté russe on affirme aussi que
« Cette décision est politisée, elle n'est pas juridique, car les contrats avaient été signés entre musées. Aussi, les objets exposés doivent-ils reprendre leur place dans les musées d'origine »
Les musées de Crimée ont bien entendu fait appel du jugement. Ce dernier prend appui sur l'interprétation de la Convention UNESCO de 1970 (Convention concernant les mesures à prendre pour interdire et empêcher l'importation, l'exportation et le transfert de propriété illicites des biens culturels) :
4.8. (...) Les Musées de Crimée semblent se fonder sur l'appartenance des trésors de Crimée au patrimoine culturel de la Crimée (ou à la RAC (Région autonome de Crimée)), mais ni la Crimée, ni la RAC ne sont des Etats (souverains). Il est établi que la RAC, au moins au moment de l'exportation des trésors de la Crimée, faisait partie de l'Etat (souverain) d'Ukraine. La Convention de 1970 vise la protection du patrimoine culturel des Etats souverains. Cela signifie que les trésors de Crimée, pour la mise en œuvre de la Convention de l'UNESCO de 1970 (...), font partie du patrimoine de l'Ukraine.
Le texte du jugement de la Cour de district d'Amsterdam du 14 décembre 2016 (en néerlandais)
Les événements en Crimée et dans l'Est de l'Ukraine donnent lieu à un nombre sans précédent d'affaires pendantes devant la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme. Trois requêtes ont été introduites par l'Ukraine contre la Russie et on ne compte pas moins de 3000 requêtes individuelles. On comparera ces chiffres aux 160 arrêts prononcés, plus 270 affaires pendantes, qui ont trait aux hostilités en Tchétchénie :
Enfin huit sociétés de pétrole et de gaz ukrainiennes ont engagé en 2016 une procédure d'arbitrage contre la Russie dans le cadre de la Cour permanente d'arbitrage en invoquant, sur la base du traité bilatéral d'investissement (TBI), l'expropriation de leurs biens situés en Crimée. Le 3 août 2016 le tribunal arbiral a décidé la poursuite de l'instance malgré le défaut de l'Etat défendeur. La situation est à première vue déroutante puisque les investissements ont été réalisés en Ukraine (territoire occupé de Crimée) et non pas en Russie. On doute que cette particularité soit de nature à faire obstacle à l'application du TBI :
CPA : (i) Stabil LLC, (ii) Rubenor LLC, (iii) Rustel LLC, (iv) Novel-Estate LLC, (v) PII Kirovograd-Nafta LLC, (vi) Crimea-Petrol LLC, (vii) Pirsan LLC, (viii) Trade-Trust LLC, (ix) Elefteria LLC, (x) VKF Satek LLC,(xi) Stemv Group LLC v. The Russian Federation
L'annexion de fait de la Crimée est sans précédent depuis la seconde guerre mondiale. Le fait est d'autant plus grave qu'un membre permanent du Conseil de sécurité en porte la responsabilité. L'Etat demandeur peut aussi espérer un procès des activités de déstabilisation russes. A cet égard de nombreux pays qui sont sous la menace de l'ingérence russe suivront cette affaire avec attention. Madame Samantha Power a ainsi dénoncé cette semaine une tentative de déstabilisation du Montenegro. Les Etats baltes ne sont donc pas les seuls à craindre les visées agressives du grand voisin. C'est dire que cette nouvelle affaire devrait être importante pour la CIJ. On pense même qu'elle sera la plus importante depuis la création de l'organe judiciaire des Nations unies, il y a soixante-dix ans. La Cour est donc attendue.
La possibilité de répondre à cette attente dépendra évidemment de la qualité des titres de compétence invoqués par l'Etat demandeur. A première vue les deux titres sur lesquels s'appuie la requête seraient adaptés au but recherché, c'est-à-dire un véritable débat de fond. La Convention des Nations unies sur toutes les formes de discrimination raciale semble en effet bien correspondre à la russification forcée de la Crimée dont les différentes minorités, les personnes qui refusent cette russification et les groupes tatars ont été les victimes (30 à 40 % de la population était non russophile, à mettre en rapport avec les résultats fantaisistes du référendum) :
292. Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians who openly support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and do not support the de facto authorities continue to be in a particularly vulnerable position. The Mejlis – a self-governing body of Crimean Tatars – became the main target of administrative and criminal reprisals by the de facto authorities. Intimidation, expulsion, or incarceration of prominent leaders of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People has a detrimental effect on the exercise of the political and civil rights of persons belonging to the Crimean Tatar community. The de facto authorities have recently imposed severe limits to the right to freedom of assembly of persons belonging to the crimean Tatar and Ukrainian communities who openly express their identity and opposition to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Cultural, religious and symbolic elements of Ukrainian identity have been restricted and/or suppressed through various administrative or law-enforcement measures.
293. Education in and of the Ukrainian language is disappearing in Crimea through pressure on school administrations, teachers, parents and children to discontinue teaching in and of the Ukrainian language. This may further limit the presence of the Ukrainian language and culture on the peninsula. Education both in and of the Crimean Tatar language continues to face obstacles and new challenges brought by the annexation and remains in need of support and revitalization.
La Convention sur le financement du terrorisme permet aussi à l'Ukraine d'articuler plusieurs griefs visant le comportement de la Russie à l'égard des groupes séparatistes violents opérant dans l'Est ukrainien, y compris la destruction de l'avion MH17 :
"For over 20 months, Russia's aggression against my country has been continuing through financing of terrorists and mercenaries, and supplies of arms and military equipment to the illegal armed groups," Poroshenko told the General Assembly.
All but one member of Russia's delegation left the assembly hall while Poroshenko spoke. The full delegation returned after he finished his speech.
L'Ukraine n'attend pas un simple jugement déclaratoire. La question des réparations constitue un élément essentiel relevant d'une stratégie visant à faire supporter par la Russie le coût économique et financier de sa politique. Il n'y a rien d'irréaliste dans cette démarche, si l'on admet que la négociation entre les deux Etats sera l'issue ultime et incontournable du conflit, dans quelques années, quelques décennies ou des siècles...
CIJ - Instance introduite par l'Ukraine contre la Fédération de Russie concernant des violations alléguées de la convention internationale pour la répression du financement du terrorisme du 9 décembre 1999 et de la convention internationale pour l'élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination raciale du 21 décembre 1965
Tout différend entre deux ou plusieurs Etats parties touchant l'interprétation ou l'application de la présente Convention qui n'aura pas été réglé par voie de négociation ou au moyen des procédures expressément prévues par ladite Convention sera porté, à la requête de toute partie au différend, devant la Cour internationale de Justice pour qu'elle statue à son sujet, à moins que les parties au différend ne conviennent d'un autre mode de règlement.
CIJ - Application de la convention internationale sur l'élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination raciale (Géorgie c. Fédération de Russie) : Arrêt du 1 avril 2011,
1. Commet une infraction au sens de la présente Convention toute personne qui, par quelque moyen que ce soit, directement ou indirectement, illicitement et délibérément, fournit ou réunit des fonds dans l'intention de les voir utilisés ou en sachant qu'ils seront utilisés, en tout ou partie, en vue de commettre :
a) Un acte qui constitue une infraction au regard et selon la définition de l'un des traités énumérés en annexe ;
b) Tout autre acte destiné à tuer ou blesser grièvement un civil, ou toute autre personne qui ne participe pas directement aux hostilités dans une situation de conflit armé, lorsque, par sa nature ou son contexte, cet acte vise à intimider une population ou à contraindre un gouvernement ou une organisation internationale à accomplir ou à s'abstenir d'accomplir un acte quelconque.
2. a) En déposant son instrument de ratification, d'acceptation, d'approbation ou d'adhésion, un Etat partie qui n'est pas partie à un traité énuméré dans l'annexe visée à l'alinéa a du paragraphe 1 du présent article peut déclarer que, lorsque la présente Convention lui est appliquée, ledit traité est réputé ne pas figurer dans cette annexe. Cette déclaration devient caduque dès l'entrée en vigueur du traité pour l'Etat partie, qui en notifie le dépositaire ;
b) Lorsqu'un Etat partie cesse d'être partie à un traité énuméré dans l'annexe, il peut faire au sujet dudit traité la déclaration prévue dans le présent article.
3. Pour qu'un acte constitue une infraction au sens du paragraphe 1, il n'est pas nécessaire que les fonds aient été effectivement utilisés pour commettre une infraction visée aux alinéas a ou b du paragraphe 1 du présent article.
4. Commet également une infraction quiconque tente de commettre une infraction au sens du paragraphe 1 du présent article.
5. Commet également une infraction quiconque :
a) Participe en tant que complice à une infraction au sens des paragraphes 1 ou 4 du présent article ;
b) Organise la commission d'une infraction au sens des paragraphes 1 ou 4 du présent article ou donne l'ordre à d'autres personnes de la commettre ;
c) Contribue à la commission de l'une ou plusieurs des infractions visées aux paragraphes 1 ou 4 du présent article par un groupe de personnes agissant de concert. Ce concours doit être délibéré et doit :
i) soit viser à faciliter l'activité criminelle du groupe ou en servir le but, lorsque cette activité ou ce but supposent la commission d'une infraction au sens du paragraphe 1 du présent article ;
ii) soit être apporté en sachant que le groupe a l'intention de commettre une infraction au sens du paragraphe 1 du présent article.
A N N E X E
1. Convention pour la répression de la capture illicite d'aéronefs (La Haye, 16 décembre 1970).
2. Convention pour la répression d'actes illicites dirigés contre la sécurité de l'aviation civile (Montréal, 23 septembre
3. Convention sur la prévention et la répression des infractions contre les personnes jouissant d'une protection
internationale, y compris les agents diplomatiques, adoptée par l'assemblée générale des Nations unies le 14 décembre 1973.
4. Convention internationale contre la prise d'otages, adoptée par l'assemblée générale des Nations unies le 17 décembre
5. Convention internationale sur la protection physique des matières nucléaires (Vienne, 3 mars 1980).
6. Protocole pour la répression d'actes illicites de violence dans les aéroports servant à l'aviation civile internationale,
complémentaire à la convention pour la répression d'actes illicites dirigés contre la sécurité de l'aviation civile (Montréal,
24 février 1988).
7. Convention pour la répression d'actes illicites contre la sécurité de la navigation maritime (Rome, 10 mars 1988).
8. Protocole pour la répression d'actes illicites contre la sécurité des plates-formes fixes situées sur le plateau continental
(Rome, 10 mars 1988).
9. Convention internationale pour la répression des attentats terroristes à l'explosif, adoptée par l'assemblée générale des
Nations unies le 15 décembre 1997.
1. Tout différend entre des Etats parties concernant l'interprétation ou l'application de la présente Convention qui ne peut
pas être réglé par voie de négociation dans un délai raisonnable est soumis à l'arbitrage, à la demande de l'un de ces Etats. Si,
dans les six mois qui suivent la date de la demande d'arbitrage, les Parties ne parviennent pas à se mettre d'accord sur
l'organisation de l'arbitrage, l'une quelconque d'entre elles peut soumettre le différend à la Cour internationale de justice, en
déposant une requête conformément au statut de la cour.
2. Tout Etat peut, au moment où il signe, ratifie, accepte ou approuve la présente Convention ou y adhère, déclarer qu'il ne
se considère pas lié par les dispositions du paragraphe 1 du présent article. Les autres Etats parties ne sont pas liés par lesdites
dispositions envers tout Etat partie qui a formulé une telle réserve.
3. Tout Etat qui a formulé une réserve conformément aux dispositions du paragraphe 2 du présent article peut la retirer à
tout moment en adressant une notification à cet effet au Secrétaire général de l'Organisation des Nations unies.
Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
January 17, 2017
Thank you. I’ve had the privilege of serving in the Obama administration for eight years. First in the White House, and for the last three and a half years, as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. I’ve never had a more meaningful job. Now I have just three days left.
This is my last major speech as a member of this Administration. And much as I would have liked to use it to urge others to go into public service, or to make the pragmatic case for strengthening the United Nations – I feel that the circumstances require me to focus on a much more immediate subject, a major threat facing our great nation: Russia.
Before getting to the core threat posed by Russia, I want to stress that some of the most rewarding and impactful work I have done at the UN has come in the times when my Russian counterpart and I have been able to cooperate. Back in 2013, together we negotiated a resolution to get the most dangerous chemical weapons out of Syria. Russia was a key pillar in imposing sanctions on Iran for its illicit nuclear program – sanctions that were essential to bringing Iran to the table, so we could forge an agreement that cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. And Russia worked constructively with the rest of the Security Council to select the best candidate for a new UN Secretary-General – a leader with tremendous experience and vision.
While people tend to look to the Cold War as the paradigm for understanding the nature of U.S.-Russia relations, the reality is that for pivotal parts of our shared history, U.S. and Russian interests have frequently aligned. We fought together in both of the 20th century’s world wars. Indeed, had it not been for the colossal sacrifices made by the Soviet Union in World War Two – in which they lost more than 20 million people, many times more than any other nation, friend or foe – the war would have dragged on much longer, millions more Americans and people of other Allied countries would likely have lost their lives, and fascism may well have prevailed in large parts of the world. Not to mention that the post-World War Two order may never have been built. Russia’s immense contribution in that war is part of their proud history of standing up to imperialist powers, from the Mongols in the 16th century to Napoleon in the 19th century. In addition, many of the challenges that Russia faces today – from violent extremism and China’s territorial expansionist aims, to national industries and jobs that have been rendered obsolete by globalization – are ones we also face here in the United States. So it is very much in our interest to try to solve problems with Russia. Dialogue between us is absolutely imperative.
Having said that, anyone who has seen my debates in the UN Security Council with Russia knows that I and my government have long had serious concerns about its government’s aggressive and destabilizing actions. The argument I want to make today goes beyond any particular action Russia has taken to its broader strategy, and what that means for the security of the United States.
Today, I will set out how the Russian Government under President Putin is taking steps that are weakening the rules-based order that we have benefitted from for seven decades. Our values, our security, our prosperity, and our very way of life are tied to this order. And we – and by we, I mean the United States and our closest partners – must come together to prevent Russia from succeeding.
This means better understanding and educating our public about how Russia is challenging this order. This means reaffirming our commitment to the rules and institutions that have long undergirded this order, as well as developing new tools to counter the tactics Russia is using to undermine it. And this means addressing the vulnerabilities within our democracy that Russia’s attacks have exposed and exacerbated. To do this, we cannot let Russia divide us. If we confront this threat together, we will adapt and strengthen the order on which our interests depend.
Terms like “international order” can seem pretty abstract, so let me be concrete about what is threatened by Russia’s actions. The order enshrined in the UN Charter and other key international agreements in the aftermath of the Second World War was built on the understanding that all our nations would be more secure if we bound ourselves to a set of rules. These included the rule that the borders between sovereign states should be respected. That even in times of war, some weapons and tactics should never be used. That while forms of government might vary from one nation to another, certain human rights were inalienable and necessary to check state power. And that the nations that break these rules should be held accountable.
Now, as we all know, a lot has changed in the seven decades since that order was created. When the United Nations was founded, there were just 51 member states, a fraction of today’s 193; some great contemporary powers were not yet independent nations; and many countries that did exist did not have a say, much less an equal voice, in developing its rules. In addition, some of the threats we face today, such as violent terrorist groups and cyber-attacks, would have been unimaginable to the architects of that system. So there are many reasons why the rules-based order conceived in 1945 is not perfectly tailored to the challenges that we as an international community face in 2017. And it is reasonable to think that we need to update those rules, with more voices at the table, some of which we will not agree with. Yet evolve as the system may, the vast majority of countries recognize that we all benefit from having rules of the road that constrain certain kinds of behavior to enhance our shared security – rules that must not be rewritten by force.
Now, I acknowledge there are times when actions the United States takes in the interest of defending our security and that of our allies can be seen by other nations as offensive moves that threaten their security, and we need to be alert to this, which is why dialogue is so important. And some may argue – not unfairly – that our government has not always lived up to the rules we invoke. As President Obama made clear when he entered office, while the United States strives to lead by example, there are still times when we have fallen short. Yet, under President Obama’s leadership, we have shown our commitment to investing in and abiding by the rules-based international order. The same cannot be said for the Russian Government today.
For years, we have seen Russia take one aggressive and destabilizing action after another.
We saw it in March 2014 – not long after mass peaceful protests in Ukraine brought to power a government that favored closer ties with Europe – when Russia dispatched its soldiers to the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. The “little green men,” as they came to be called – for Russia denied any ties to them – rammed through a referendum at the barrel of a gun, which Mr. Putin then used to justify his sham annexation of Crimea.
We saw it months later in eastern Ukraine, where Russia armed, trained, and fought alongside separatists. Again, Russia denied any role in the conflict it manufactured, again flouting the international obligation to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbor.
We saw it also in Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s brutal war in Syria – support it maintained, even as the Assad regime blocked food and medicine from reaching civilians in opposition-held areas – civilians who were so desperate that they had resorted to eating leaves. Even as photographs emerged of countless prisoners who had been tortured to death in Assad’s prisons – their bodies tagged with serial numbers. Even as the Assad regime repeatedly used chemical weapons to kill its own people.
We saw it in 2015, when Russia went further by joining the assault on the Syrian people, deploying its own troops and planes in a campaign that hit hospitals, schools, and the brave Syrian first-responders who were trying to dig innocent civilians out of the rubble. And with each transgression, not only were more innocent civilians killed, maimed, starved, and uprooted, but the rules that make all our nations more secure – including Russia – were eroded.
We saw it in Russia’s efforts to undercut the credibility of international institutions like the UN. For example, in an emergency UN Security Council meeting last month, then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the member states that the Assad regime forces and Iranian militias were reportedly disappearing men as they took parts of eastern Aleppo. In response, the representative of Russia – which was providing air cover for the offensive – not only claimed that Russian investigations had uncovered “not a single report of ill treatment or violations of international humanitarian law against civilians of eastern Aleppo,” but also accused the Secretary-General of basing his information on “fake news.” Minutes later, Syria’s representative echoed Russia’s line, holding up as proof what he claimed was a photograph of a Syrian government soldier helping an elderly woman. The only problem was that the photo was taken six months earlier, in June 2016. In Fallujah, Iraq.
In this same period, we also saw Russia’s systematic efforts to sow doubt and division in democracies, and drive a wedge between the United States and our closest allies. Russia has done this by supporting illiberal parties like France’s National Front, which has a xenophobic, anti-Muslim platform. When the National Front was having trouble raising funds for its 2014 campaign, a Russian bank with ties to the Kremlin stepped in to loan the party more than $11 million. While that may seem like a small amount compared to the budgets of U.S. national campaigns, it was roughly a third of what the party was aiming to raise, and the National Front made significant gains in that election. With national elections coming up in France this year, the National Front has said that it is looking again to Russian financing for help. Little surprise that the party’s leader has repeatedly attempted to legitimize Russia’s attempted land grab of Crimea.
Russia has also used hacking to sow distrust in the democratic processes of some of our closest allies, and undermine the policies of their governments. Consider the case of Germany. According to German intelligence agencies, groups linked to the Russian government carried out a massive May 2015 attack targeting the German Parliament, energy companies, telecoms, and even universities. And just last month, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency reported an alarming spike in “aggressive and increased cyber-spying and cyber-operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament, and employees of democratic parties,” which the agency attributed to Russian hackers. The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service said the perpetrators’ aim is “delegitimizing the democratic process.”
In other instances, Russia’s interference in democratically elected governments has been far more direct. Late last year, officials in Montenegro said they uncovered a plot to violently disrupt the country’s elections, topple the government, install a new administration loyal to Moscow, and perhaps even assassinate the Prime Minister. Montenegro’s Prime Minister had been pushing for the country to join NATO, a move Russia openly opposed. The plotters reportedly told investigators that they had been funded and equipped by Russian officials, who had also helped plan the attack.
It is in this context that one must view the Russian Government’s latest efforts to interfere in America’s democracy.
As our intelligence community found, we know that the Russian government sought to interfere in our presidential election, with the goals of undermining public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrating one candidate, and helping the other candidate. Our intelligence agencies assess that the campaign was ordered by President Putin, and implemented by a combination of Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and government-paid trolls. We know that, in addition to hacking the Democratic National Committee and senior Democratic Party officials, Russia also hacked U.S. think tanks and lobbying groups. And we know Russia hacked elements of multiple state and local electoral boards, although our intelligence community’s assessment is that Russia did not compromise vote tallies. But think for just a moment about what that means: Russia not only tried to influence our election, but to access the very systems by which we vote.
At first glance these interventions by Russia in different parts of the world can appear unrelated. That is because the common thread running through them cannot be found in anything that Russia is for – but rather in what Russia is against. Not in the rules it follows, but in the ones it breaks. Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against – having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.
There are multiple theories as to why the Russian Government would undermine a system that it played a crucial role in helping build, and that has fostered unparalleled advances in human liberty and development. Perhaps it is to distract the Russian people from the rampant corruption that has consumed so much of the wealth produced by the nation’s oil and gas, preventing it from benefitting average citizens. Perhaps it is because our rules-based order rests on principles – such as accountability and the rule of law – that are at odds with Russia’s style of governing. Perhaps it is to regain a sense of its past glory, or to get back at the countries that it blames for the break-up of the Soviet Union, which President Putin has called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”
It is not my aim today to speculate on which, if any, of these motives lies behind the Russian Government’s actions, which not only threaten our democracy, but the entire order upon which our security and prosperity depends. It is instead to ask: What are we going to do to address this threat?
First, we must continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to determine the full extent of Russia’s interference in our recent elections, identify the vulnerabilities of our democratic system, and come up with targeted recommendations for preventing future attacks. The Congressional hearings initiated last week, the bipartisan inquiry announced on January 13 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Joint Analysis Report on Russian Malicious Cyber Activity and Harassment, and the Joint Intelligence Report prepared at the request of President Obama, are all important steps toward achieving these crucial objectives.
The purpose of such efforts is not to challenge the outcome of any races in our recent election. The purpose is to identify the gaps in our defenses that Russia exploited – as well as other gaps that may not have been seized upon in this attack, but that Russia or others could take advantage of in the future. And the purpose is to determine the steps needed to close such gaps and strengthen the resilience of our system. Because it would be deeply naïve – even negligent – to think that those who have discovered vulnerabilities in our system would not try to exploit them again and again. And not just Russia, but all the governments and non-State actors who see undermining our democracy as a way to advance their interests. Indeed, it already has happened repeatedly – as we know, there were also hacks in our presidential elections in 2008 and 2012.
That these efforts be bipartisan is absolutely essential. Allowing politics to get in the way of determining the full extent of Russia’s meddling and how best to protect our democracy would undermine our core national security interests. It is healthy for our parties to debate issues such as how to expand our middle class or what role our nation should play in the world. What is not healthy is for a party or its leaders to cast doubt on a unanimous, well-documented assessment of our intelligence community that a foreign government is seeking to harm our country.
Second, we have to do a better job of informing our citizens about the seriousness of the threat the Russian Government poses. Here too, our unity is crucial. When we send conflicting messages about a threat Russia poses, it sends a mixed message to the American people. A recent poll found that 37 percent of Republicans hold a favorable view of President Putin, up from just 10 percent in July 2014. That is an alarmingly high proportion for a leader that has had journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians murdered, ridiculed our constitutional safeguards, and tried to tip the scales in our elections. I know some have said that this focus on Russia is simply the party that lost the recent presidential election being “sore losers,” but it should worry every American that a foreign government interfered in our democratic process. It’s not about the leader we chose – it’s about who gets to choose that leader. That privilege should belong only to Americans.
We must also forcefully reject the false equivalency between the work that the U.S. Government and the Russian Government are doing in other countries. There is a world of difference between supporting free and fair elections, and investing in independent institutions that advance human rights, accountability, and transparency – as we do; and trying to sow distrust in democratic processes, misinform citizens, and swing elections toward illiberal parties, as Russia is doing.
Third, we must reassure our allies that we have their backs, and ensure that Russia pays a price for breaking the rules.
That means maintaining our robust support for NATO, and make clear our nation’s steadfast commitment to treat an attack on any NATO member as an attack on us all. We expect all our NATO allies to do their part in keeping the Alliance strong, which includes meeting the pledge made in 2014 to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense – a commitment we in the Obama Administration have pushed relentlessly for them to fulfill. We also need to increase cooperation and intelligence sharing to deter, detect, and defend against the next generation of hacks and cyber threats, particularly as France, Germany, and the Netherlands look forward to national elections this year.
That also means maintaining the sanctions placed on Russia, including those imposed by President Obama in response to Russia’s meddling in our election. Now, some have argued that the most effective way to get Russia to start playing by the rules that undergird the international order is actually by easing sanctions. If only we reduce the pressure, they claim, Russia will stop lashing out against the international order. But they have it backwards: easing punitive measures on the Russian Government when they haven’t changed their behavior will only embolden Russia – sending the message that the best way to gain international acceptance of its destabilizing actions is simply to wait us out. And that will not only encourage more dangerous actions by Russia, but also by other rule-breakers like Iran and North Korea, which are constantly testing how far they can move the line without triggering a response.
Similarly flawed is the argument that the United States should put recent transgressions aside and announce another “reset” with Russia. Yes, the Obama Administration tried this approach in our first term. But 2017 is not 2009. In 2009, Dimitri Medvedev was president of Russia, and we were able to find common ground on issues such as counterterrorism, arms control, and the war in Afghanistan. More important, in 2009, Russia was not occupying Crimea, fueling an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, and bombing hospitals and first responders in Syria. Nor, most importantly, had Russia interfered directly in a U.S. election.
Yet it would be a mistake to think that all we need to do to defend ourselves and our allies against the threat Russia poses is to rely on the same tools we have been using; that if we just close the gaps in our defenses, inform our public, maintain or even ratchet up sanctions, and shore up NATO, we will be able to protect the rules-based order. Because Russia has an edge in one respect. It is easier to break institutions down than build them up. It is easier to sow skepticism than earn people’s trust. Making up fake news is easier than reporting the facts required for real news. Put simply, in international affairs in 2017, it’s often easier to be bad than good.
Let me give just one example. On September 19th, 2016, a humanitarian convoy of the Arab Red Crescent was bombed in the Syrian city of Urem al-Kubra, killing at least 10 civilians, and destroying 18 trucks filled with food and medicine intended for desperate Syrian civilians. Because the strikes were carried out in a region where only the Assad regime and its Russian allies were flying, the attack was widely reported as likely being carried out by the regime or Russian forces. Yet rather than accept any responsibility – rather than even try to get to the bottom of what had happened, the Russian Government did what it always does in the face of atrocities with which it is associated: deny and lie.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense initially said no airstrikes had been carried out in the area by Russian or Syrian planes, and that its expert analysis of video footage of the strike showed that the aid convoy had been destroyed by a fire. Then President Putin’s press secretary said that terrorists had been firing rockets nearby, suggesting they were the ones who had struck the convoy. Then Russia claimed a U.S. drone had been detected above the convoy just minutes before it was struck – contradicting its initial assessment that the convoy had not been hit from the air. Two days. Three stories. All false.
Yet Russia’s willingness to lie turned reporting on the attack into an “on the one hand, on the other hand” story, even in respected outlets like theNew York Times, the BBC, and CNN. And Russian Government-controlled networks like RT played a critical role in this effort, rapidly disseminating those lies while questioning the accounts of eyewitnesses. As RT’s own editor once said, “Not having our own foreign broadcasting is the same as not having a Ministry of Defense. When there is no war, it looks like we don’t need it. However, when there is a war, it is critical.” In other words, lying is a strategic asset. It didn’t matter whether Russia’s accounts were accurate or even consistent; all that mattered was that Russia injected enough counterclaims into the news cycle to call into question who was responsible. By the time the UN issued a report on the incident more than three months later, concluding that the convoy had been struck by an airstrike that could only have been carried out by the Assad regime or Russia, the finding and Russia’s cover-up received almost no attention. Deny and lie.
At times, it can start to feel that the only way to outmaneuver an adversary unbounded by the truth is to beat them at their own game. But that would be deeply misguided. If we try to meet the Russian government in its upside-down world – where right is left and black is white – we will have helped them achieve their goal, which is creating a world where all truth is relative, and where trust in the integrity of our democratic system is lost.
We don’t need to gin up our own propaganda networks, bankroll our own army of trolls, and inundate social media platforms with even more fake news targeting our adversaries. We have to fight misinformation with information. Fiction with facts. But documenting and spreading facts – just like manufacturing fake news – takes resources. A report by the UK Parliament found that the Russian Government spent between $600 million and $1 billion a year on propaganda arms like RT. So we need to be spending at least as much – and arguably much more – on training and equipping independent reporters, protecting journalists who are under attack, and finding ways to get around the censors and firewalls that repressive governments use to block their citizens from getting access to critical voices.
This brings me to the fourth and final way to address the threat Russia poses to the rules-based international order: we must continue to seek ways to engage directly with the Russian people – and – coming back to where I started today – their government.
It can be easy to forget that virtually all the tactics the Russian Government is using to undermine democracy abroad are ones they fine-tuned on the Russian people, to devastating effect. After all, when Russian soldiers are killed fighting in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that their Government denies it has any role in – it’s Russian mothers, widows, and orphans who are denied the benefits and recognition they deserve as the family members of slain soldiers. The mafias that the Russian Government uses to sow corruption abroad profit most off the backs of the Russian people. And it is Russian journalists and human rights defenders who have been harassed, beaten, and even killed for uncovering their government’s abuses.
So we must be careful to distinguish between the Russian Government and the Russian people. We cannot let America’s relationship with a nation of more than 140 million people – people who have made remarkable contributions to the world, who have a proud, rich history and culture, and whom we fervently wish to see prosper – be defined solely by the nefarious actions of a tiny subset in their Government. And yet we have less contact with ordinary Russians than at any time in decades. This is no accident; in the past few years, the Russian Government has closed 28 U.S. Government-funded “American Corners,” which offered free libraries, language training, and events about American culture to Russian citizens, and shuttered the American Center in Moscow, which hosted over 50,000 Russian visitors per year. It has also expelled U.S. Government-supported and independent non-profits, such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Foundation, which had spent decades fostering civil society and the rule of law in Russia. As the Kremlin closes off these outlets for reaching the Russian people, we must find others to take their place.
We also cannot give up engaging with the Russian Government. We should do this in part because collaborating on issues of shared interest will allow us to show, not just tell, what we know to be true – that our nations have a lot more to gain by working to build up a system of shared rules and principles than tear it down. And in part because by working together, we may be able to rebuild the respect and trust needed to tackle to the unprecedented global threats that we face today – many of which we cannot solve without one another’s help.
Let me conclude. In 1796, our nation’s first president, George Washington, used his Farewell Address to issue a stark warning to the American people about the danger of foreign governments trying to interfere in our democracy. He told his audience: “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens), the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”
More than 220 years later, Washington’s warning feels strikingly relevant. For if anything, the vulnerabilities that Washington saw, in his words, “to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils,” have only multiplied with modern technology. And unlike in 1796, it is no longer enough for us simply to protect our own democracy against foreign interference; we also have to protect the integrity of the entire rules-based international order, on whose foundations our security and prosperity rest.
Yet while so much has changed since Washington issued his warning, the essence of the threat has not. It goes to the creation of America itself – a nation born out of a simple, yet revolutionary idea: that it was the American people, ordinary citizens – and not a government, domestic or foreign – who should enjoy the right to shape our nation’s path. That is a right that we have had to fight to defend throughout our history. And while in recent decades we may have felt confident that no power would dare try to take that right away from us, we have again been reminded that they will try.
Just as the threat is fundamentally unchanged since Washington’s time, so is our most effective way to confront it. And that is by renewing the faith of the American people in our democracy. Our democracy’s vitality has long depended on sustaining the belief among our citizens that a government by and for the people is the best way to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, to preserve the freedoms they value most, and to expand their opportunities. It is not that we have a perfect system, but a perfectible system – one that the American people always have the power to improve, to renew, to make their own. That faith is the engine that has powered our republic since its creation, and it is the reason other nations still look to America as a model.
And it is precisely that faith that the Russian Government’s interference is intended to shake. The Kremlin’s aim is to convince our people that the system is rigged; that all facts are relative; that ordinary people who try to improve their communities and their country are wasting their time. In the place of faith, they offer cynicism. In the place of engagement – indifference.
But the truth is that the Russian Government’s efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of our democracy would not have been so effective if some of those doubts had not already been felt by many Americans. By citizens who are asking whether our system still offers a way to fix the everyday problems they face, and whether our society still gives them reason to hope that they can improve their lives for the better. In this way, the attack has cast a light on a growing sense of divisiveness, distrust, and disillusionment.
But we know not only what we are against; we know what we are for. So just as we are clear-eyed about the threat Russia poses from the outside, and unified in confronting it, we must also dedicate ourselves to restoring citizens’ faith in our democracy on the inside – which always has been the source of America’s strength, and always will be our best defense against any foreign power that tries to do us harm.
I thank you.