Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman, Community of Democracies: “Democracy on the Rise: Defending Democratic Institutions and the Rule of Law against the Kremlin’s Malign Influence”

Monday, November 4, 2019

Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman, Community of Democracies: “Democracy on the Rise: Defending Democratic Institutions and the Rule of Law against the Kremlin’s Malign Influence” 

(Remarks as prepared)

Thank you Secretary General Garrett for that kind introduction.

And thank you all for being here for a discussion of the most pressing challenge Europe now faces for its further democratic development. 

This is also a fitting time to have this discussion, given that the International Day of Democracy is just a few short days away.   

As we reflect on the importance of democracy to us all, it is important to remember how dearly we, those who have come before us, have paid for its preservation in Europe.    In Normandy this past June, President Trump celebrated the soldiers who braved tremendous odds to protect the liberty we all now enjoy.  

“These men ran through the fires of hell moved by a force no weapon could destroy: the fierce patriotism of a free, proud, and sovereign people.  They battled not for control and domination, but for liberty, democracy, and self-rule.” 

Their sacrifice is ours to honor and carry forward. 

I firmly believe that we are witnessing today, in Europe and Eurasia, a revitalization of the demand for freedom that these men fought for three-quarters of a century ago.  Just over a year ago, Armenians peacefully demanded an accountable, transparent government committed to fighting corruption and bringing the rule of law and prosperity to the country.  

In Ukraine, citizens reasserted their demand for a stronger democracy by going to the polls to elect a new president and parliament, that were more committed to fighting corruption.  In Moldova, a reform-oriented government,also recommitted to anti-corruption efforts just assumed power. In North Macedonia, the government has moved forward with historic Prespa Agreement has opened the door to further democratic reform and European integration.  

In all of these cases, we’re seeing the resilience in people’s demand for freedom and accountable government.     

The fall of the Berlin Wall,  nearly thirty years ago, heralded the end of an empire which repressed individual freedoms, stifled individual initiative and impoverished its people.   The collapse of Soviet-style communism also opened a new, and challenging chapter for a region yearning for freedom and responsive and representative government.      

Since that time and over the past thirty years, with the support of USAID and other partners, many of the countries of Europe and Eurasia have made enormous strides; overcoming major social, economic, and political challenges on their paths towards democracy, economic prosperity, and full integration with the wider community of nations.  

And yet many of these young states remain vulnerable to those who seek to manipulate them for their own self-serving ends.  

At USAID, we believe that foreign assistance should help nations to stand on their own and make their own choices.  We believe in governments that are accountable to their people. We believe in equipping institutions, businesses, and citizens with the tools they need to choose their own futures.  

That is why on July 4 of this year, USAID Administrator Mark Green launched USAID’s Countering Malign Kremlin Influence development framework. 

The Kremlin is not interested in the self-directed development or freedom or choice of its neighbors. It prefers to dominate.  It prefers to steal, rather than build. It prefers to impose its will rather than to build partnerships. The Kremlin behaves this way because it has nothing to offer to the freedom, prosperity, and security of its neighbors.  

Vladimir Putin props up his failing autocracy by waging a campaign to undermine core Euro-Atlantic institutions and to weaken support for democratic and free-market systems.  These actions create considerable new challenges to the development progress these nations have made. This interference in the development trajectory and aspirations of these countries amounts to a direct challenge to their self-determination, to their stability, and the wellbeing of their citizens.  

The Kremlin routinely draws on a wide array of pressures and tools to hinder the progress of its neighbors toward democracy, prosperity, and energy security. Throughout the region, the Kremlin acts to destabilize, weaken, and limit political systems by undermining public confidence and trust in democratic processes and institutions. It interferes in elections; wages information warfare; encourages corruption, seeks to marginalize and repress civil society, undermines the rule of law.  

USAID will not stand by as the Kremlin seeks to undermine what these nations have fought so hard for.

The USAID CMKI development framework responds to this authoritarian pressure  by increasing the economic and democratic resilience of our partner countries, and working to mitigate the effects of Kremlin soft power aggression upon a range of institutions.

Our work under this framework is already underway.  

We are supporting journalists who are holding the powerful to account and report important stories in a way that grabs your attention.  And we are helping media consumers learn how to separate fact from fiction before they cast their ballot.  

In the Balkans, for example, we are equipping independent outlets with the latest tools and technology to produce high quality content. 

And in Moldova, we helped create ProFakt, Moldova's first fact-checking network. These experts, sourced from civil society, media, politics, economics, and agriculture, played an essential role in uncovering false narratives and disinformation efforts around the February elections.  

We are helping diversify the energy supply and networks available to nations so that they have greater choice as to where their energy comes from and how much they are willing to pay for it.  And we are helping build the cyber infrastructure these countries need to prevent malevolent intruders from turning off the lights.

In Georgia, for example, we facilitate the expansion of cross-border electricity trade between Georgia and Armenia, which would decrease the Kremlin’s leverage in both countries. And we are securing Georgia’s electricity network from foreign interference by assisting them in improving the security of the systems that manage the electricity network. 

Through the U.S.-Europe Energy Bridge Program, USAID is offering an alternative to Kremlin energy sources by promoting the development of energy infrastructure in the region via partnerships with U.S. equipment manufacturers and international financial institutions.

We are helping governments to establish rules of the road for doing business transparently, openly, and fairly so that their businesses can compete internationally and attract investment domestically.  

Ukraine stands out in this regard. With U.S. Government and USAID support, Ukraine has undertaken the hard work of diversifying and reorienting its trade relationships, including exporting products which meet EU standards.  In 2017, over 45% of its trade was with the EU, compared to less than 12% with Russia.

Most recently, in the wake of a flight ban instituted on July 8, 2019 by the Kremlin, USAID responded and will continue to work with the Georgian National Tourism Administration to bolster the Government of Georgia’s efforts to diversify foreign tourists.

And as we celebrate the freedom democracy brings to people across the globe, I want to draw particular attention to USAID’s efforts to safeguard judicial and democratic institutions.  These pillars of freedom ensure the voices of citizens are heard and their rights respected.

From Kyiv to Yerevan, we are helping governments and civil society organizations to combat corruption and ensure public officials and institutions serve the interest of the people.  

In Ukraine, for example, USAID procured critical and urgent election cybersecurity equipment for the Central Election Commission, safeguarding the election from any foreign disruption.  

Or in the Western Balkans, where USAID is supporting legal and regulatory reform to ensure transparent, effective rule of law and enforcement.

Or in Armenia, USAID is providing high-level technical advice to the Office of the Prime Minister to increase oversight over new national anti-corruption strategies.

I want to be clear, we are offering our partner countries support for preserving their self-determination and independence. 

America’s interests are best served by partnership with free and independent peoples who can join us as equals to promote the wealth and security of one another.    

The Kremlin prefers to keep oligarchs rich, government elites powerful, and citizens confused, angry, disenfranchised, and resigned.   

Look no further than the Kremlin’s recent efforts to suppress activists calling for more democratic local elections.  Those who suffer the most from the Kremlin’s misguided policies: the Russian people themselves. But sadly, the Kremlin has been working to push its authoritarian system on others beyond its borders. 

CMKI is designed to counter the malign tactics the Kremlin uses to undermine the democratic and economic development and stability of other countries.   

I still vividly remember meeting teenage students in a cold high school classroom outside of Moscow in 1997.  They expressed disappointment in the state of their drab, dark school building.  

Foreshadowing the anti-Americanism pervasive in today’s Kremlin-backed disinformation efforts, one young woman asked me, “Where are the Americans? You were supposed to be our white knights in shining armor.”  The truth is that American’s commitment to support the Russia people the American spirit remained alive and well throughout the years. In addition to traditional foreign assistance, thousands of American volunteers lent their time and expertise in a showcase of the American spirit.  But development is called “development” for a reason. It does not happen in a day. And it requires the sustained commitment of governments, industries, and citizens. What I should have told her is that the best person to create change in her classroom, her community, and her country.  Citizens are the primary agents of transformation.  

The teenagers I met in 1997 are now young adults in their thirties, still trying to realize their democratic dreams in a Russia hardened by its leadership’s authoritarian tactics. 

The Russian people still want the same basic rights and opportunities that we all want. They want to leave behind a better future for the next generation.  

Strong democracies and prosperous economies in Europe and Eurasia can light the way for them.  These nations can demonstrate that democracy works. They can exemplify that democracy is the answer to Russia’s growing socio-economic challenges.  

I will close by turning to the challenge another American President posed on his inauguration day in 1961.  

President John K. Kennedy viewed the fight for democracy as a shared endeavor. “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Let us all recommit to this objective today.  

Last updated: November 04, 2019

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