On April 21, John Lenczowski participated in a panel on “Propaganda, Disinformation, and Dirty Tricks: The Resurgence of Russian Political Warfare” at The Heritage Foundation. He gave some background on Soviet propaganda and how some of the themes and methods of this propaganda relate to current events in Russia and Ukraine.
Other speakers on the panel were Paul Goble, Former Special Advisor to the International Broadcasting Board and Guest Lecturer at The Institute of World Politics, and Dr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow for Russia and Eurasia Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
Vladimir Putin’s action against Ukraine validates the historic relationship between propaganda and aggression. Having seized control of major broadcasters, his henchman are censoring websites and telling Russians in Ukraine that “fascists” in Kiev are planning to round them up and kill them. Russian provocateurs whip up protests against Ukraine’s government. U.S. correspondents report that Ukrainians and Russians are being “brainwashed” by Russian disinformation.
All this is designed to motivate Russian armed forces and secure public support on both sides of the border for Mr. Putin’s efforts to “protect” Russian Ukrainians not only in Crimea but throughout the country. Moscow has a virtual monopoly on the narrative. The question is how far must Mr. Putin go before the West, and particularly the U.S., returns to the airwaves in full force to counter the Kremlin’s propaganda.
Today the Washington Post reports that the last peeps of American broadcasting over the Voice of America on a Russian AM radio transmitter were just shut down.
Broadcasting over the AM band (as anyone who listens to a car radio knows) involves reaching only a local audience. Nothing could be simpler for Moscow than to close down US access to local transmission facilities.
The scandal that lurks behind this seemingly minor episode is that the United States long since shut down its shortwave broadcasts to Russia, which could reach vast swaths of Russian territory from transmission facilities located far away from the target area.
Putin’s latest action is merely the latest effort to shut down any free media that could contradict his government’s propaganda line. It is this propaganda that has been an indispensable aid to his ability to conduct his aggression against Ukraine.
When will the U.S. government take seriously the role of information and propaganda in foreign policy?