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Breedlove: Russian election meddling ‘a form of warfare’

President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian Defence Ministry top officials and representatives of the Russian Defense Industry, at Bocharov Ruchei residence. (Klimentyev Mikhail/TASS /ZUMA Press/TNS)

The former leader of U.S. European Command on Wednesday railed against Russian disinformation and election meddling, warning of future cyberattacks against the United States if the hostile power is left unchecked.

Retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told the House Armed Services Committee that Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was deeply troubling, though it’s not surprising in light of their long interest in disinformation campaigns.

Now, he said it’s up to Americans to acknowledge the threats and develop effective and long overdue strategies to combat these forms of Russian aggression.

“We need to move to a place where we are ready to combat hybrid warfare,” Breedlove said during a hearing on state and non-state influenced operations. “Hybrid warfare is a form of warfare the United States has yet to fully understand, nevermind prepare for. Simply condemning the election is not going to solve the problem and it’s not going to prevent future Russian hybrid operations.”

The comments come on the heels of heightened concerns that the White House isn’t in agreement with the Pentagon when it comes to fending off future Russian cyberattacks and meddling.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday sparked controversy once again when he called to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin following his re-election, a voting process reportedly riddled with fraud and other shadowy circumstances.

Trump’s call to Putin drew a strong reaction from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a frequent critic of both presidents.

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said McCain, who has been home battling brain cancer. “President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat of the House committee, lauded McCain’s comments, saying it was time to get the White House on the same page to fend off future Russian cyberattacks.

Many lawmakers in Congress agree challenging the Russians can be done by weaponizing the internet as they do, however Trump’s administration remains a missing piece in the puzzle, Smith said.

“I know the Pentagon is trying, but this has to be a whole of government approach,” he said. “It starts with the president. And the president has been unwilling to do this. …we’ve got to get the White House to decide this is important and to engage.”

Breedlove said Russian hybrid warfare dates back to the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when they used several disinformation tactics against the United States and others. By 2013, Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of the country’s armed forces, gave a speech detailing the strategy, Breedlove said.

Gerasimov said disinformation campaigns are “efforts of warfare” and could be more potent that traditional weapons of war, Breedlove told the House committee.

“Russia sees the West and in particular a unified West as an adversary,” Breedlove said. “Waging a conventional war against the West would be unfavorable to Russia. As such, it has used hybrid warfare to break up Western unity.”

In all the cases of Russian disinformation and election inference, the West has been slow to recognized it and even slower to react, he said.

That needs to come to an end, Breedlove said.

“We need to treat this with the gravity it deserves. We need to take a position, establish policy and then execute it,” he said. “The Russian hybrid threat is larger than the election and larger than the United States. It is a threat to the liberal order …and will continue to be until we develop an effective strategy and implement the necessary policies to combat it.”


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