In early February, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the first of what promises to be many hearings on the topic of Russia in 2017. Retired Air Force general Philip Breedlove testified alongside former National Security Council official Julianne Smith on the current state of US-Russian relations. On the face of it, the decision to call Breedlove and Smith before the committee makes perfect sense. Breedlove, fresh off his final assignment in uniform as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, drove the alliance’s response to the outbreak of violence in Ukraine that began four years ago this February. Smith served as a national security adviser to then–ice President Joe Biden, who was the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine.
Both Smith, who is currently a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and Breedlove, now a board member of the Atlantic Council, have impeccable establishment credentials and have testified on Capitol Hill on issues relating to Russia and Ukraine numerous times over the past several years.
Not surprisingly, both share a common a view of what ails the US-Russian relationship. Smith told the senators that in her estimation “Russia poses a serious threat to the security and interests of the United States and its allies in Europe. Russia is engaged in a sophisticated, long-term strategy to undermine the rules-based order that the United States and its allies constructed after World War II.” “Russia’s tactics,” Smith continued, “aim to undermine our democratic institutions, sow divisions within NATO and the EU, and carve out a sphere of influence.”
For his part, Breedlove told the committee that “President Putin has made clear that he wants to upend the post-Cold War order established in Europe.” Russia’s goal, in Breedlove’s telling, “is to weaken NATO, the European Union, and the transatlantic relationship.”
Breedlove and Smith’s testimony was met with bipartisan agreement by the members of the committee. In fact, The Hill reported that “There was so much agreement between the witnesses that chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) joked it was hard to tell which was a Republican and which was the Democrat.”
One could be forgiven, then, for wondering why the hearing was held in the first place. After all, the views of the two witnesses are by now well-known. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2016, Breedlove told Senator John McCain that he personally favors a policy of sending lethal arms to Kiev, even though this was contrary to Obama administration policy. Breedlove was such a fervent advocate for sending arms to Kiev that, as The Intercept reported last year, Breedlove spent many hours while on active duty enlisting the help of retired general and former presidential candidate Wesley Clark in lobbying the Obama administration to take a more active role in the fight in Ukraine. As for Smith, she has testified on Capitol Hill on matters relating to Russia, and what is often euphemistically called “transatlantic security,” on four previous occasions in the last three years.