Stefanik seeks to counter Russia

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (Photo — The Leader-Herald)

Six days after U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik returned from a seven-day trip to Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia, she talked with the Enterprise about what she learned there, the state of cyberwarfare in Eastern Europe and recent actions taken by Russian and American leaders.

Stefanik, a Republican who represents northern New York and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said that on the trip she talked with leaders of the three countries that are “on the cutting edge of Russia’s destabilizing influences” about how Russia is influencing elections and carrying out cyberattacks.

She said this is nothing new, and that Russia has been producing propaganda for Eastern European countries since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 2007, Russia waged a large-scale cyber attack on Estonia that shut down access to all websites. In 2014, Russia took the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, and forces it supported clashed with Ukraine’s military. And in Latvia, Stefanik said the Kremlin has been successful in influencing politics through propaganda.

As the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Stefanik said she has been focused on countering cyber attacks and information warfare from Russia since she entered Congress three years ago.

Differing from President Donald Trump’s view of Russian aggression, Stefanik said she is concerned over that country’s military and propaganda efforts.

“I have been explicitly clear since my first day in Congress that I view Russia as an adversary,” Stefanik said. “Election 2016 was obviously a wake-up call for the U.S., but this is part of a broader global strategy when it comes to Russia asserting its influence and trying to destabilize democratic institutions.”

She said the U.S. needs to develop its cyberdefense systems to surpass Russian technology.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday in his state-of-the-nation speech that the country has expanded nuclear capabilities. The United States responded by sending 210 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Putin showed off a series of cruise missiles, nuclear-powered underwater drones and a new hypersonic missile that he said travels five times the speed of sound, saying the new weapons can render missile defense systems useless.

The second purpose of Stefanik’s trip was to assert U.S. support for NATO allies Estonia and Latvia, and to show U.S. commitment to Ukraine. Stefanik said she supports Ukraine joining NATO.

In a time of increased Russian aggression, Stefanik said it is imperative to maintain good relationships with NATO allies such as Latvia and Estonia.

She also said the U.S. needs to focus on modernizing its nuclear programs. She said Putin’s announcement underlines the need for new missile defense technology on the East Coast of the U.S. Stefanik has proposed Fort Drum, near Watertown, as a location for the eastern seaboard’s defense hub, and it is currently one of three locations being considered. A decision will be made within 60 days of the Trump administration’s missile defense review.

Stefanik said while she differs with Trump on the danger Russia presents, she also vehemently disagreed with former President Barack Obama’s 2009 Russia “reset,” saying the attempt to quell tension between the two superpowers was an “abject failure” and led to the Kremlin propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, leading to ongoing war and destabilization in the Middle East.