GOP Takes Up Russia-Aligned Attack On Soros
A group of congressional Republicans is teaming up with Russia-backed politicians in Eastern Europe with the shared goal of stopping a common enemy: billionaire financier George Soros.
Led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’ Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left.”
It’s an accusation that’s being fomented and championed by Moscow.
Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary and fled after World War II when it was under Soviet control, has been long a bęte noire of the Kremlin, which sees his funding for civil society groups in former Soviet satellite states as part of a plot to install pro-Western governments.
For years, those complaints had generally fallen on deaf ears in Washington.
While Republicans have long regarded Soros as a mortal enemy when it comes to domestic politics (where he has spent tens of millions of dollars backing Democratic candidates and liberal causes), their politics were more aligned on the international stage. Soros’ efforts to boost democracy and root out corruption in former Eastern Bloc countries dovetailed with traditional Republican foreign policy objectives.
But things may have started changing after Donald Trump’s stunning victory in a presidential campaign during which he emphasized nationalist themes. Politicians with nationalist constituencies in several former Eastern Bloc states have become increasingly aggressive in seeking international support for their crusade against Soros, and they seem to have found at least some takers in the GOP.
The particular focus of the letters from Lee, Smith and their cohort is spending by Soros’ foundations in Macedonia, a former socialist republic in the throes of a two-year political crisis, and to a lesser extent in its neighbor to the west, Albania. In the former Communist country, which has struggled with allegations of corruption, one letter expressed concerns that “Soros-backed organizations” are pushing reforms “ultimately aimed to give the Prime Minister and left-of-center government full control over judiciary power.”
The letters, which ask the State Department and the Government Accountability Office for information about U.S. foreign aid funding for Soros groups in the Balkans, came after lobbying from the right-wing party clinging to power in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE.
Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations, suggested that autocratic regimes see Trump’s rise as giving them carte blanche to resist reforms, and to dismiss those proposing them.
“Authoritarians, branded today as ‘illiberals,’ have long opposed George Soros and the vision of an open society, but they have been emboldened by Trump's victory to go even further,” Stone told POLITICO.
So far, the Republican lobbying against Soros’ efforts in Macedonia has not resulted in much. But the involvement of several high-profile Republicans, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is raising eyebrows within the U.S. foreign policy community, who see the baleful influence of Moscow making inroads on Capitol Hill.
Russia is trying to exploit the crisis in Macedonia to sow distrust of the U.S. and pull the right-wing party into its orbit, regional analysts say. And the Republican lawmakers’ concern — that the U.S. is, in the words of Lee’s letter to Tillerson, “fomenting political unrest, disrespecting national sovereignty and civil society” — handed Moscow a major propaganda coup, they warn.
Russia’s state-controlled English-language websites rushed to trumpet Lee’s and Smith’s letters, holding them up as proof that the U.S. is guilty of exactly what it accuses Russia of doing in 2016 — interfering in another country’s politics.
“Senators ask Tillerson to probe US ‘fomenting unrest’ in other countries,” RT blared.
Sputnik News reported on Lee’s letter under the headline “Tables Turned: Have Obama and Soros Hacked Foreign Elections?”
The claims have been echoed in right-wing U.S. outlets, from the conspiracy website Infowars to Fox News.
“It’s straight from the Russian playbook — the idea that some American NGO is fomenting the demonstrations is like ascribing to the CIA mystical powers that don’t exist,” said a policy analyst with knowledge of the Balkans. “The Russians have been using all tactics at their disposal, and it’s a very inexpensive way to stir the pot.”