Romney: We Must Ensure the World Understands Russia’s Malevolence

At hearing on global food security, urges help to Ukraine and other nations being starved by Russia

WASHINGTON—At a hearing on the global food security crisis and the U.S. response, U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) pressed USAID Administrator Samantha Power and UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield on whether the United States and other nations are sufficiently stepping in to solve the food crisis being created by Russia and its blockade on Ukraine. He called out Russia’s malevolence toward Ukraine and other nations and urged the need to communicate Putin’s disinformation to the world.

A transcript of his exchange with Administrator Power and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield can be found below.

Senator Romney: Thank you to both the Ambassador and the Administrator for the work that you’re doing. Is Russia trying to starve the world? I mean, are they intent on causing pain in Egypt and Lebanon and throughout North Africa and the Middle East? I mean, is this part of their intent or are they simply intending to starve Ukraine and willing to ignore the fact that what they’re doing in starving Ukraine is also starving the world? Do you have a sense of what their intent is—what they’re thinking?

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield: I can’t speak for what is going on in Putin’s mind, but I think at the start of this, they thought they were going to have a quick war—bring Ukraine to their knees in two weeks and have them waving the white flag and that would be the end of it. And that failed. And so they’re continuing this effort to starve the people of Ukraine and in the process starve the rest of the world and they don’t care. Which is why it is so important that we have gotten bipartisan support from this Congress to provide for people in the rest of the world. What the Russians are now doing is blaming us—that our sanctions are responsible for what is happening in the rest of the world, when in fact there are no sanctions on their agricultural products, there are no sanctions on their fertilizer. They can move their agricultural products, they can move their wheat if they wanted to do it. But they would prefer to blame the rest of the world, thinking that will get them more support from the world. And I think they’ve failed.

Romney: Ambassador, why is it that they are so effective at spreading lies and we’re so terribly ineffective at telling the truth and having the world understand what’s going on? I would think the leaders of Egypt and Lebanon and other places that have seen astronomical increases in price would be yelling about what Russia is doing. I don’t see that. Why are we so incapable of making sure the world understands Russia’s malevolence, the impact they’re having on the world, and creating, if you will, global pressure not just from the nations of the West but global pressure on Russia. Why are we so ineffective?

Thomas-Greenfield: I wouldn’t say we are ineffective. We definitely have to ramp up our efforts—something that we all work on every single day to counter Russia’s disinformation. We do it in the United Nations, in meetings, and we do it in our travels around the world, and I think countries are hearing it. They’re hearing it but they’re also dealing with other issues. They are dealing with not only Russia’s disinformation—they’re dealing with Russia’s intimidation. We know that when we have to vote in the UN that the Russians actually sent written correspondence to countries to say, “If you vote against us we will no longer—this will affect our long-term relationship.” So, these countries are dealing with these other efforts, but I think again, to have 141 countries condemn Russia—they are resisting that pressure and they do understand that Russia is responsible for this war. Now, that doesn’t mean Russia doesn’t have its friends. The four to five countries that voted with them, including China, their friends are always there for them, but they’re few and far between.

Romney: Administrator Power, what other nations are stepping in to make sure that the food crisis being created by Russia and its blockade, if you will, on Ukraine is in some respects getting some relief? Is India stepping up to the extent they should? Are other parts of the world making the kinds of efforts they should, and are we as a nation stepping in—we, and Canada and others that have bountiful agricultural resources?

Administrator Power: Thank you Senator, and if I may just pick up on your exchange with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, I would just note that the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s investments throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, have gotten a lot of attention. I do not think that the RT penetration and the Russian disinformation media-machine have received the same attention, nor I think would we say we are resourcing our information efforts as a country, as we did during the Cold War for example, or not even close to how they resourced them. That is not the only answer, again we are blasting our message out as many places as we can. And I think probably the only reason Putin is in those negotiations with the UN and Turkey right now, is the number of African countries that privately, not publicly in the way that we do, have either paid trips to Moscow, to appeal for those grains to be released so that the prices go down, or that wheat arrives, and I think pressure has brought him to the table, whether it will be enough to bring him to actually allow the grains go.

Romney: I fully agree with you that we are not paying the kind of attention or devoting the resources to communicating the truth to the world as Russia is spending to communicate lies.

Power: Agree completely. To your question on division of labor and so forth. You mentioned India specifically, which has not come up yet in the hearing. India has been very responsive to the complete economic collapse in Sri Lanka, extending grants and mainly loans to a government that of course fell, but now a new government that is in great economic peril. That is a country that has defaulted on its debt payments for the first time in its history, and it is probably just the first of at least several and maybe many governments that are likely to fall by virtue of these higher prices—particularly fuel prices as we head into winter. With regard to some of what we have been talking about, I did want to call out and commend some of the very discrete efforts on actually dealing with the trappings of Ukrainian grains. Japan has chipped in $23 million dollars to help the Ukrainians buy storage bags. The European Commission has provided direct cash grants to farmers, around $53 million dollars. The UK, which has dramatically cut, unfortunately, its foreign assistance budgets at the worst possible time, but has contributed $12 million dollars to help rebuild the railways that are being attacked, which helps get the food out. So these kind of modest efforts, but as I mentioned I think before you got here, if you look at the response, for example, to the potential famine in the Horn of Africa, other countries, our friends, who stepped up the last time there was a very severe drought, are right now, many of them at about 8% of what they funded before. Some of that is because they are funding so generously inside Ukraine, and of course to Ukrainians who are coming into Europe, but this burden, also this privilege, of helping people in their hour of need is being borne very disproportionately by the United States right now.