U.S. Republican lawmakers who went to Russia seeking a thaw in relations received an icy reception from Democrats and Kremlin watchers for spending the Fourth of July in a country that interfered in the U.S. presidential election and continues to deny it.
“Cannot believe GOP, once the party that stood strong against Soviets & only a decade ago sought to democratize the Middle East, is now surrendering so foolishly to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Kremlin’s kleptocracy — only two years after Russia interfered in U.S. election,” tweeted Clint Watts, an information warfare specialist at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and frequent featured expert before congressional panels examining Russian influence operations, according to The Washington Post.
“Russians wooing with a shopworn song — repugnant as nails on a blackboard,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal wrote in a Twitter post in response to the delegation’s trip. “They are enemies and adversaries, attacking us.”
Sen. Richard C. Shelby led the eight-member delegation on a multiday tour of St. Petersburg and Moscow, a trip that included meetings with Russia’s foreign minister and parliamentarians. It did not include a session that senators had been hoping for: a meeting with Putin, whom President Trump is scheduled to meet at a summit this month.
Members of the delegation set off on their trip late last week promising to be tough with Russian officials ahead of the Trump-Putin summit, especially on matters of election interference. But they struck a conciliatory tone once there: The point of their visit, Shelby stressed to the Duma leader, was to “strive for a better relationship” with Moscow, not “accuse Russia of this or that or so forth.”
It played well in Moscow, but not on the home front.
The senators who posted Fourth of July messages on social media while still in Moscow took some of the sharpest criticism, some of which highlighted that while they met with Kremlin-connected officials, Britain discovered that two of its citizens had been poisoned by a suspected Russian nerve agent, the same substance that injured a former Russian spy and his daughter in England in March.
Others pointed out that while the delegation was in Russia, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report finding Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election with a clear preference for helping Trump defeat former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington “changed a bit” by the time they got to Moscow.
“We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did,” Igor Korotchenko, a Russian military expert, said on a talk show on state-run television.
The congressional GOP’s prominent foreign policy voices have remained quiet about the trip, declining to comment about the visit’s significance.