US Ambassador to UN warns about threat of Russia's interference in western democracies

Samantha Power says now is the time for the protection and robust support of America’s institutions

As the final days of the Obama administration draw to a close, the president and some of his staff have used their platform to do and say some of the things they would normally be prevented from doing given the diplomatic constraints of office.

Yesterday, President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the young US army private who was given a 35-year sentence for leaking 700,000 classified diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power used her final days in office to deliver a hard-hitting broadside and warning about the threat of Russian interference in western democracies.

She talked about Russian efforts in destabilising America’s traditional allies in Europe by using similar means of cyber-warfare as well as providing funding to far-right, euro sceptic parties such as France’s National Front, and others which are growing in popularity across Europe.

Referring to Russia’s role in supporting the Syrian government’s “brutal” war against its civilians, Power pointed to Putin’s continued assistance to Bashar Al Assad in spite of the litany of attacks against his own people, including the use of chemical weapons, indiscriminate bombing and starvation – even though such tactics breach all rules and norms of war.

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

Power then pointed to Russia’s direct military intervention in Syria in 2015, where its own soldiers and military aircraft provided cover, arms, and air forces to attack the opposition.  As part of this, schools, hospitals and civilian first responders were targeted and killed, including a humanitarian convoy of 18 trucks agreed as part of a supposed deal aimed at reaching out to separate families trapped in Eastern Aleppo.

She told the packed audience in the conference room at The Atlantic Council Think-tank in Washington D.C. of an occasion where in an emergency UN Security Council meeting Ban Ki Moon told the Member states that Assad forces and Iranian militias were disappearing men in Eastern Aleppo.

In response, Russia, who was providing cover for Assad’s operations,  not only claimed that Russian investigations found there was no such breach of the Geneva Conventions, but then accused Ban ki Moon of engaging in “fake news.”
Minutes later, Syria’s representative to the UN, echoed Russia’s line; holding up a photograph of what he claimed was a Syrian soldier helping a woman in Aleppo. It turned out that the photo was taken in Falujah Iraq, six months earlier, Power told the floor.

The Pulitzer-prize winning author also disclosed a recent event in of late last year, involving the government in Montenegro, where it uncovered a plot to “violently disrupt” the country’s election, “topple the government”, “install a new administration loyal to Moscow” and even “assassinate the Prime Minister.”  Montenegro Prime Minister had been pushing for the country to join NATO.

According to Power, the plotters told investigators that they had been funded and equipped by Russian officials who had also helped plan the attack.

To the recent Russian hacking of the US Presidential election, Power said that as well as hacking the Democratic National Committee and senior party officials, Russia also hacked US Think-tanks and lobbying groups. She also said Russia “hacked elements of state and electoral boards”, but did not “compromise vote tallies.”

She said that now is the time for the protection and robust support of America’s institutions and a clear, united and bi-partisan approach to tackling the threat Russia poses in undermining US democratic values and foundations.

Adding it was important to therefore identify vulnerabilities within these democratic systems, and support congressional hearings and ongoing joint-intelligence investigations now underway to find out more .