US presents new effort to counter Kremlin influence

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, walks past honor guards after laying flowers at the monument to the soldiers and militiaman of WWII and local conflicts in the Botlikh village, Dagestan, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — An intergovernmental coalition hosted a presentation Thursday about a new U.S. foreign aid initiative intended to help targeted European countries withstand Kremlin interference.

The U.S. Agency for International Development describes its initiative, called Countering Malign Kremlin Influence, as a framework to help democratic institutions safeguard elections, counter propaganda and misinformation, and avoid dependence on Russian energy.

The effort, first announced in July, is aimed at countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. An agency official, Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman, presented it Thursday to diplomats in Warsaw, delivering the message that Washington remains committed to democracy across a region that shook off Moscow’s control three decades ago.

Bierman talked about what he called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “soft power aggression.”He said the Kremlin interferes in elections, waging information warfare and promoting corruption.

“The Kremlin behaves this way because it has nothing to offer. It has nothing to offer in freedom, prosperity or to the security of its neighbors,” Bierman said. “USAID will not stand by as the Kremlin seeks to undermine what these nations have fought so hard for and for so long.”

He said the efforts include supporting independent journalism and fact-checking in Moldova and the Balkans, as well as helping countries diversify their energy supplies so that Russian energy doesn’t remain a tool of political control.

He stressed several times that the efforts are not directed against the Russian people, only against the Kremlin.

It comes as people across the region worry about U.S. President Donald Trump’s sympathies for Putin, which many fear could come at a heavy cost to countries like Ukraine, and even NATO members like Poland and the Baltic states.

Wojciech Przybylski, the editor of Visegrad Insight magazine, which focuses on Central Europe, said that it was reassuring to hear of U.S. efforts to support democracy across Europe.

“The fact that a U.S. government agency is undertaking efforts to tell the story that Americans are countering the Kremlin — and exactly on the territory the Kremlin would dispute, where Moscow would rather not have anyone else but themselves — it’s a powerful message and the right message,” Przybylski told The Associated Press.

Bierman spoke at the Warsaw-based Community of Democracies, a global coalition of democratic states.

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