Chairman Ernst Stresses Need to Examine Russian “Grey Zone” Operations to Prevent Similar Scenarios, Including Kosova

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services’ Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee and a combat veteran, held her first open subcommittee hearing titled “Russian Influence and Unconventional Warfare Operations in the ‘Grey Zone’: Lessons from Ukraine.” During the hearing, Senator Ernst stressed the need to examine Russia’s grey zone activities in Crimea and ensure it never happens again. Additionally, Senator Ernst expressed her concern that we could see similar events impact Iowa’s state partner, Kosova.

Senator Ernst emphasized: “The invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014 represents the breadth of Russia’s influence campaign in Ukraine, and the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty represents the first attempt to change the boundary of a European nation since the end of the Cold War. Russian operations spanned the spectrum from covert information operations, intended to influence political opinion – to overt deployment of military forces for unconventional warfare, designed to dominate civilian populations. We cannot afford to understate its importance or ignore its lessons.” She continued “…Last week, the commander of U.S. European Command, General Scaparrotti, characterized the Russian operations in Crimea as ‘activities short of war’. Or, as it is commonly referred to – the grey zone.”

The Iowa Senator also pressed the witnesses on her concern over “Russia’s involvement in Serbia right now, and its impact on Iowa’s sister country – we have a state partnership program with Kosova – so I do get very concerned about those activities in Serbia and how they might lead to activities with Russia in Kosova. Just last week, General Scaparrotti said he shared my concerns about Russia’s activities in Serbia as well.”

Witnesses at the hearing included Dr. Olga Oliker, Senior Adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Lieutenant General Charles T. Cleveland, USA (Ret.), Senior Fellow at the Madison Policy Forum and Former Commanding General of the United States Army Special Operations Command; and Dr. Michael R. Carpenter, Senior Director of the Biden Center for Diplomacy at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to Kosova, Senator Ernst also had the opportunity to question the witnesses on Russia’s ability to illegally annex Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine, and Russian propaganda campaigns (more below the full text of the remarks).

 

Full text of Senator Ernst’s opening remarks:

“Today, the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee meets to receive testimony on Russian influence and unconventional warfare operations in the “Grey Zone” and the lessons learned from those operations in Ukraine. I would like to welcome our distinguished witnesses this morning: Dr. Olga Oliker, Senior Advisor and Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Dr. Michael Carpenter, Senior Director of the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania; and Retired Lieutenant General Charles Cleveland, former commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command and currently a Senior Fellow at the Madison Policy Forum.

“Thank you very much for joining us today.

“The invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014 represents the breadth of Russia’s influence campaign in Ukraine, and the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty represents the first attempt to change the boundary of a European nation since the end of the Cold War.

“Russian operations spanned the spectrum from covert information operations, intended to influence political opinion – to overt deployment of military forces for unconventional warfare, designed to dominate civilian populations.

“We cannot afford to understate its importance or ignore its lessons. It is my hope our witnesses can help us understand in more detail what happened, why it was successful, and how to stop it from happening again in the future.

“Last week, the commander of U.S. European Command, General Scaparrotti, characterized the Russian operations in Crimea as ‘activities short of war’. Or, as it is commonly referred to – the grey zone.

“Russia’s grey zone activities in Crimea are important for us to review today, and unique because it was an influence campaign of propaganda and disinformation, culminating in the employment of Russian Special Operations Forces on the sovereign territory of Ukraine.

“This hearing today also allows us to discuss our own Special Operations Forces. It is time we review their Unconventional Warfare capabilities.

“I look forward to hearing from General Cleveland about his thoughts on the need to strengthen the capabilities in our special operations forces – which may have understandably atrophied after over a decade focused on direct action counter terrorism missions.

“The Russian influence campaign and unconventional warfare efforts in Ukraine contain all the hallmarks of grey zone operations: ambiguity of attribution, indirect approach, and below the threshold of open conflict.

“As we continue to see Russia conduct these operations across the globe, I hope our witnesses today can better help us understand, and better counter these efforts.”

 

On Russian involvement in Serbia leading to activity in Kosova:

“Dr. Oliker, you note at the end of your written comments that you don’t think a ‘Crimea-like scenario’ is what we need to worry about in the future. As we witness continued grey zone activities from Russia throughout the Baltics and Balkans – I am worried about what scenario we might possibly see there in the future. Specifically, I am concerned about Russia’s involvement in Serbia right now, and its impact on Iowa’s sister country – we have a state partnership program with Kosova – so I do get very concerned about those activities in Serbia and how they might lead to activities with Russia in Kosova. Just last week, General Scaparrotti said he shared my concerns about Russia’s activities in Serbia as well. So what type of Russia scenarios do you think we might see in the future, specifically in that region?

 

Senator Ernst followed up with Dr. Carpenter regarding his earlier comments about railcars being purchased with Russian dollars.

“I thought it was interesting, Dr. Carpenter, that you mentioned the railcars that are being purchased with Russian dollars and that was brought to my attention by the Kosovars. They mentioned that there are railcars that have been purchased that are located in Serbia that have been run into Kosova. So there are some concerns out there, they’re wondering what is going on, what type of propaganda is this that exists out there. Do you have any brief comments on those types of activities?”

 

On Russia’s ability to illegally annex Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine:

“General Cleveland, if I could start with you, why were the Russians so successful in achieving their objectives of illegally annexing Crimea and destabilizing eastern Ukraine? And why do you think U.S. Special Operations forces are prepared today to counter situations like that in the future?”

 

On Russia Propaganda Campaigns:

“Dr. Carpenter, to counter Russian information operations, you say that the United States should ‘take a more pro-active approach’ including identifying and taking action against Russian misinformation – or debunking those false stories. And I agree with you on that point. Can you explain to us what role the messaging in Russian films and TV shows play into this information campaign? And then also, what about social media and how that applies to the situation?”

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