Monday 20 November 2017

Power gives bleak warning that 'Russians are trying to tear down world order'

Samantha Power speaks during a discussion at the Atlantic Council on ‘The Future of US-Russia Relations’ in Washington, DC, yesterday. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Samantha Power speaks during a discussion at the Atlantic Council on ‘The Future of US-Russia Relations’ in Washington, DC, yesterday. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Shona Murray in Washington

Outgoing US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power launched a direct and verbal offensive against the Russian government for its role in undermining the US presidential election.

At an event in Washington, in one of the her final speeches in her senior role in the Obama administration, the Dublin native also talked about Russian efforts in destabilising and fragmenting America's traditional allies in Europe.

She cited funding to "illiberal political parties", such as France's Front National and others which are growing in popularity across Europe.

The ambassador accused Russia of "tearing down" the world order that exists and called to action the global community to confront the "forces of authoritarianism and nihilism".

Power - who has served in her role in the Obama administration since 2009 - spoke in straight, stoic terms, delivered without the usual aplomb or optimism one might expect for a valedictory speech at the end of the long tenure in one of the world's most influential roles.

She mentioned Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014 after the Ukrainian population voted in a government that supported closer ties to the EU. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin "rammed though a referendum at the barrel of a gun" in order to "justify his sham annexation", she said. She talked at length of Russia's support for Bashar al Assad's "brutal war" in Syria; "support it maintained" even when Assad blocked food and medicine to starving civilians who "were resorting to eating leaves" to survive. This continued she said, even as photos emerged of countless prisoners "tortured to death in Assad prisons" - their bodies "tagged with serial numbers", and when Assad "repeatedly used chemical weapons" to kill his own people.

In 2015, Russia then joined the assault on the Syrian people, "deploying its own troops and planes, targeting schools, hospitals and the brave Syrian first responders who were trying to rescue innocent civilians".

Not only were more innocent civilians "killed, maimed starved and uprooted, but the rules that make us all more secure were eroded", said Power.

The Pulitzer prize-winning author discussed the threat that Russia poses in EU countries due to hold election in 2017.

She said Russia is "sewing doubt and division" in western democracies, and trying to "drive a wedge between the US and its allies".

It's little surprise that Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Front National, has repeatedly attempted to "legitimise" Russia's land-grabbing in Crimea, she said.

Power added that the US intelligence community has unequivocally found that the "Russian government sought to interfere in the presidential election", with the "goals of undermining public faith in the US democratic process", by "denigrating one candidate and helping the other candidate".

Speaking of the outcome of part of the investigation by US intelligence agencies, she said the modus operandi employed by Russia was the use of a "combination of Russian government agencies, state-funded media and government-paid trolls" - directed by Vladimir Putin.

As well as "hacking the DNC and senior party officials", Russia also hacked US think-tanks and lobbying groups, she said.

"And we know that Russia hacked elements of state and electoral boards, but did not compromise vote tallies."

"Think about what this means," she said. "Russia not only tried to influence our election but to access the very systems by which we vote."

Speaking with the desire to not only relieve her own frustration of years of apparent Russian intransigence at the UN, Power's speech appears to have been an attempt to communicate in no uncertain terms what she has learned and as much as she can say about the future of Russian intent in western democracies.

She urged vigilance amongst US lawmakers and the public at large, as well as robust and well-resourced institutional support in detecting and understanding the "vulnerabilities" within democratic systems.

Shona Murray is Foreign Affairs Correspondent with Newstalk

Irish Independent

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