WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren continued her overseas military education this week, traveling to Eastern Europe and Germany to discuss the Russian threat.
Warren’s five-day trip started in Poland, where she met with US and Polish officials, and visited US troops stationed in Poznan and Powidz, including having dinner with a unit of Army reservists from Brockton. On Wednesday, she continued on to Estonia, before finishing her tour in Germany.
Her meetings and briefings focused on efforts to counteract Russian efforts to damage European democracies, Warren said in an interview with the Globe from US Army Europe Headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany.
“Europe is being tested right now by Russia’s aggressive and destabilizing actions in Ukraine, in Montenegro, and elsewhere,” Warren said, citing actions that include cyberattacks and an onslaught of fake news and other propaganda, as seen in the 2016 US elections. “These asymmetric tactics are part of Putin’s playbook. The United States must be there to ensure that our European allies and partners are ready,” she said, not only with conventional forces and equipment “but also with strong capabilities in cyberspace and in countering Russian propaganda that seeks to undermine democracy in Europe.”
The Massachusetts Democrat, who joined the Senate Armed Services Committee this year, said her five-day trip showed her that the United States has a lot it can learn from its European allies, too. She pointed to Estonia, where she met with Estonian officials in charge of the country’s cybersecurity efforts as well as cyberexperts with the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.
Estonia was the first country to be hacked by the Russians, back in 2007, and the country used it as a wakeup call, Warren said, moving much more aggressively to build capabilities to defend themselves. But that hasn’t come at a cost of online activity: Instead, Estonians vote online, do all their banking online, and file their taxes online. “The Estonians make the point very forcefully that a cyberattack on civilian transactions is a cyberattack on the country and potentially destabilizes the country,” she said.
While in Poland, Warren met with government officials, including Marek Magierowski, a deputy foreign minister, who retweeted photos of their meeting. Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice Party has drawn criticism for moving in a hard-right, nationalist direction, and for adopting policies critics say infringe on civil liberties and undermine democratic norms of independent courts and news media.
Asked whether she discussed any of these criticisms with Polish officials, Warren would only describe generally that she stressed “at length” about the importance of democratic institutions, saying that the conversations she had were not public.
In addition to discussing military defense and cyberdefense issues, Warren said, “We also talked about the importance of an open and democratic society that is supported by a government that shares our values. Democracy is our strength, and I tried to underline that point at every chance I got,” with Polish officials and NATO officials alike, she said. “When democracy is weakened, Putin is strengthened. And a big part of democracy is the representation of all people in a country.”
This is Warren’s second overseas trip in recent months. Her first, a five-senator fact-finding mission over the July Fourth recess, took her to Afghanistan and Pakistan with Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona. By contrast, she did not travel with other lawmakers during her Europe trip this week.