- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2019

The U.S. and its allies must be wary of Russian interference in elections around the globe, Vice President Mike Pence said Monday at a Warsaw press conference that also featured a 5G-security pact designed to box out “subsidiaries” of the Chinese government.

Mr. Pence sounded the alarm as part of a broader warning about Russian influence in Poland and elsewhere.

“With its efforts to meddle in elections across Europe and around the world, now is the time for us to remain vigilant about the intentions and the actions being taken by Russia,” Mr. Pence said alongside Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller this year concluded Russia had used social media campaigns and hacking efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and boost President Trump over his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

European nations also say Russian President Vladimir Putin has directed efforts to interfere in their democracies.

Democrats say Mr. Trump and his GOP allies aren’t doing enough to address the issue, though the White House insists it is helping states prepare for the 2020 elections.

The vice president on Monday took a hard line on Mr. Putin’s Russia, chastising it for occupying “large parts of Georgia and Ukraine” and pumping vast quantities of natural gas into Central Europe.

“The truth is, Moscow seeks to divide our alliance, now with its oil and gas reserves. But Poland has taken a strong stand, as we have, to promote energy independence and security,” Mr. Pence said.

The vice president wielded tough rhetoric even as Mr. Trump employs a soft touch with Mr. Putin.

Last weekend, Mr. Trump urged the Group of Seven industrialized nations to let Russia back into their club, saying it’s easier to have Mr. Putin in the room during thorny negotiations.

Mr. Duda took a cautious approach to the debate, saying Russia’s readmission is a “very complex” issue.

The country was kicked out of the group for annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Mr. Duda said, so it’s hard to proceed with “business as usual” when it comes to Russia.

Mr. Pence went to Poland this weekend as a stand-in for Mr. Trump, who remained in Washington monitoring the potential landfall of Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm.

“When there is a threat coming down to the people, to the country, the president should be in place and keep his hand on the pulse,” said Mr. Duda, explaining he understood the sudden switch.

The vice president said Mr. Trump wants to reschedule his trip, targeting this fall.

Mr. Pence marked the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II in a somber ceremony Sunday, ahead of political meetings with Mr. Duda.

Mr. Duda touted American investments in Polish energy production, Poland’s purchases of U.S. military equipment and the addition of American troops in his territory. Earlier this year, Mr. Duda and Mr. Trump agreed to move 1,000 U.S. troops there from Germany.

“The United States is sending a clear message to the wider world that our commitment to the security of this region, of our relationship with Poland and this alliance, is unwavering,” Mr. Pence said. “Since the agreement was signed in June, sites for our joint bases also have been finalized.”

Mr. Pence said the U.S. is close to nominating Poland for the visa-waiver program, to ease travel between the two nations.

Also Monday, the U.S. and Poland agreed to conduct “careful and complete evaluation” of any companies providing 5G components and software, as nations build their lightning-fast networks.

Leaders endorsed a set of principles crafted by cybersecurity professionals this year in Prague. The protocols emphasize “the need for 5G networks to be constructed based on free and fair competition, transparency, and the rule of law.”

Though it doesn’t mention Chinese company Huawei by name, the agreement is viewed as an effort to box out the telecom giant.

The administration blacklisted Huawei based on fears it is too cozy with the communist Beijing government and could use its 5G equipment for surveillance or to disrupt networks — charges the company denies.

Mr. Trump’s aides have urged foreign partners to use other companies in their networks.

“We recognize 5G networks will only be as strong as their weakest link — so this agreement will ensure that all components, software and systems are designed with security in mind when developing and deploying 5G,” Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, said. “We must stand together to prevent the Chinese Communist Party from using subsidiaries like Huawei to gather intelligence while supporting China’s military and state security services — with our technology.”

Mr. Duda said Polish authorities have detected nefarious activities within their networks, though didn’t provide much detail.

“Indeed, behaviors have been detected which can be qualified as actions of an espionage nature,” he said. “And the Polish services have undertaken appropriate steps.”

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