So You Want To Talk Russian Meddling? Here’s What You Should Know

Putin Getty Images/Sean Gallup

Gregory Keeley National security analyst
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As the interminable “Russia investigation” continues its perpetual loop on cable news, most Americans are blissfully unaware that Putin has tentacles wrapping tightly around several former Soviet states. United States allies Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova are imperiled by Moscow’s bellicose interloping. Washington ought to robustly engage and support these former Soviet puppet states.

In Moldova, Russian troops are effectively an occupying force, deployed throughout a country that the Kremlin refuses to recognize as an independent state. Moscow is supplying economic and military support to separatist groups, aimed at destabilizing the region and thwarting the former Soviet Republics from engaging the West.

Earlier this year, parliamentary speaker Andrian Candu stated to reporters that Moscow’s interference in Moldova’s democracy will increase as the national elections draw near.

Russia distributes disinformation and propaganda via Putin-funded, non-government organizations (NGOs); controls a majority of the media content; manipulates social media; and backs the so-called “pro-European opposition.” Unfortunately, the Moldovan media space is not well secured. In an effort to curtail Moscow’s influence, the Democratic Party of Moldova has pushed legislation to limit news, political programs and military programs produced in countries outside the U.S., the EU and other western countries — in short, Russia

Last year, Moldova accused Russia’s intelligence service of threatening 25 pro-European politicians amid an investigation into a $22 billion money-laundering case involving money sent from Russia to the largely discredited Moldincon bank.

Some Moldovan political leaders, including Prime Minister Pavel Filip, speaker Candu and Democrat Party Chairman Vlad Plahotniuc, are championing efforts to curtail corruption, reinventing commercial regulations and stabilizing the banking system to terminate Russian money laundering. The requisite effort is significantly more burdensome as the country’s current President, Igor Dodon, is pro-Russian and allegedly funded by Moscow.

For the first time in the history of the young state, dozens of unethical magistrates have been convicted. Judges and prosecutors, police officers, customs officers, ministers and mayors — long seen as being in the pocket of the Russian Bear — have been prosecuted and jailed on public corruption charges.

Prior to Filip’s Western-facing government, Russian money laundering had corrupted Moldova’s banking system. The Russian mob controlled international finance channels. Consequently, reforms have been implemented to secure the banking sector. There is now alignment of national financial and banking with EU directives and the legislature has approved a draft law that provides for additional supervision over banks or non-banking financial companies, insurance companies and investment firms that are part of financial conglomerates.

The West finally seems to be acknowledging these efforts. For example, the IMF approved $179 million in credit over three years to support Moldova’s economic and financial reforms, and more is expected. Moldova is now a member of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, a program created to foster political and economic integration for newer democracies in Eastern Europe. More needs to be done.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Russian oligarch (and Putin comrade) Bidzina Ivanishvili recently announced his intent to wrest control of the ruling Georgian Dream party. At the behest of Moscow, the billionaire’s stated aim is to pivot the former Soviet state back into the arms of Mother Russia. On the ground, American companies are feeling the negative impact of this axis. The U.S. and EU businesses in Georgia are experiencing first-hand the surge in Russian influence and are having trouble navigating new regulations and an increasingly volatile and anti-West political landscape.

A concerted, robust commitment by the U.S. to Moldova, Georgia and other former Soviet vassal states is clearly in Washington’s best interest both economically and militarily. A number of resolutions have been introduced in Congress to increase support for the former Soviet states; regrettably, these bills continue to languish.

These countries’ proximity to Moscow, the outsized influence of Putin and the effects of Russian financial meddling and corruption should alarm Americans. A reconstituted “Soviet Bloc” in Europe is simply not acceptable from a national security perspective. Our elected representatives need to act. If we abdicate this responsibility, an emboldened Kremlin will have carte blanche to continue their occupation and disruption of these fragile and currently independent democracies.

Greg Keeley (@DreadnaughtUSA) is managing partner of Dreadnaught and retired lieutenant commander who served in both the U.S. and Australian Navies. LCDR Keeley also served as a NATO & ISAF spokesman, and as senior adviser to Rep. Jim Saxton and Rep. Ed Royce in the U.S. Congress. LCDR Keeley was the National Cybersecurity Institute’s inaugural visiting fellow.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.