U.S. senators who traveled to Moscow last week warned Russian officials not to interfere in U.S. elections, but were met with denials, said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
Speaking during a press call Monday, Daines said the all-Republican delegation of eight lawmakers had several things to discuss with the Russian officials, among them election interference, the Russian invasion of Crimea and Syria.
“Key messages that we sent to the Russian leaders in every meeting we had was first, don’t interfere in our election. Second, respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and exit Crimea,” Daines said. “Third, work with us not against us in bringing peace to Syria. We’re concerned, certainly, with Russian and Iranian involvement in southern Syria that presents a very direct threat to the security of Israel.
“Fourth, was violation of the (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty,” Daines said. “That is medium- and short-range nuclear weapons. We believe they have been in violation. So does the world.”
The delegation met with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, and Sergey Muromtsev, chairman of the state Duma, the Russian equivalent of House speaker.
One member of the delegation, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told the Associated Press that Lavrov is a bully and that dealing with the Russian government was like “dealing with the mafia.” Kennedy advised against trusting Russian President Vladimir Putin, who President Donald Trump is expected to meet with in private later this month.
Another member of the delegation, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., suggested America should reconsider sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Crimea, saying they didn’t appear to be working well.
All members of the delegation have told similar stories about warning the Russians about election interference. They recommended no specific steps to be taken should Russia meddle in U.S. elections again. The other members were Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr., told the delegation the relations with Russia were at their lowest since the end of the Cold War, Daines said. The two nations possess 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, a fact that should compel the countries to improve relations, he said.
Russia has grown increasingly hostile to American democracy and the U.S. economy. Both House and Senate intelligence committees have concluded that Russians made aggressive moves to influence the U.S. elections by agitating existing divisions within American society.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that Russia used 36,746 automated Twitter accounts to produce 1.4 million unique tweets leading up to the 2016 election. The accounts incited racial divisions and promoted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages while speaking positively about Trump and negatively of Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On Facebook, Russian operators generated election-related “malign influence” posts that reached the news feeds of 29 million Facebook users, according to the House committee. Based on the number of “shares,” “likes” and “follows” on the Russian content, 129 million people may have received Russia’s malign influence content, Facebook told House investigators.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded July 3 that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election specifically to help Trump get elected.
The attacks on the United States didn’t end with the 2016 election, but also involved U.S. energy policy. On June 11, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology concluded that between 2015 and 2017 the Russian Internet Research Agency used social media platforms to disrupt energy markets and influence domestic policy.
Russians issued 9,097 tweets or posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sometimes posting as left-leaning environmental groups opposed to oil and gas pipelines, other times posting as pro-fracking groups. The accounts targeted climate change, attempting to influence U.S. energy policymaking. Russia's Internet Research Agency also contributed money to unwitting environmental groups opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone XL Pipeline and other North American energy projects. Those attacks continued at least three months into the Trump presidency.
American energy production is at record levels, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That production threatens Russia’s economy, both by driving down global oil prices as supplies increase, and by transforming the United States into a global supplier of liquid natural gas.
“Energy is one of the most strategic cards we have to play in this fight,” Daines said. “It’s very important that we continue building out more pipeline infrastructure in this country so we can get more (liquefied natural gas) over to Europe, for example. When Russia supplies over 30 percent of Europe’s energy, 50 percent of Germany’s energy, that puts Europe, and more specifically Germany at the mercies of Russia. Europe in particular would be much better served and secure if they moved their energy dependence on the United States instead of onto Russia.”
Russian social media attacks have been well received by Americans on social media. One bogus Russian account posing as the Tennessee Republican Party on Twitter with the handle @TEN_GOP had more followers than the actual Tennessee GOP Twitter account, according to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“After tweeting ‘We love you, Mr. President’ to Donald Trump, @TEN_GOP received a thank you from the presidential candidate,” the committee reported
Daines learned firsthand how quickly misinformation can spread after becoming the target of Twitter outrage July 4. The senator posted photographs of his July 4 evening with his wife in Washington D.C. Twitter users accused the Daineses of using stale photos of a D.C. evening to hide spending Independence Day in Russia.
In the week leading up to the Russia trip, Montana Democrats editorialized that Daines would be in Russia for Independence Day.
The July 4 tweets falsely accusing Daines of faking his Independence Day whereabouts went viral.
Steve Daines is an imbecile. Not only was he not in DC, he's in Russia, but he didn't post this to coincide with local times and events. A quick Google would have let him know that DC fireworks start after 9, which is 90 minutes after this post. Shenanigans! https://t.co/N2I8dB4rEO— Payaso (@JDLehman3) July 5, 2018
Daines was in D.C. He returned early so he could fly with Trump on Air Force One to a July 5 campaign rally in Great Falls.
“It’s very important that we all have the responsibility to get facts, but it does show the power of social media,” Daines said Monday. “This is the new world we live in in social media, there’s a lot of fake news out there. Unfortunately it's everywhere on social media. I think it goes back on all of us to confront it. Set the record straight as quickly as possible.”