(CNSNews.com) — U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said that Russian propaganda is threatening the “fledgling democracies” in Eastern Europe. For that reason, he is opposed to efforts to defund the federally-funded Voice of America (VOA).
“It’s been instructive… how effective [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s disinformation and propaganda really has been,” Johnson said in his opening remarks during a Senate Europe Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Following the hearing, in response to a question from CNSNews.com regarding a bill introduced by House Asia Subcommittee chair Matt Salmon seeking to defund VOA, Johnson said: “I think [VOA] is an extremely important effort as we’ve heard in this hearing today.
“We need to push back on the propaganda that Russia is spewing in Eastern Europe and throughout the world, but most effectively in Eastern Europe. We want to help those fledgling democracies remain free.”
The hearing focused on various aspects of Russian propaganda, as well as efforts to combat it.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) mentioned a discussion she had with thedaughter of Boris Nemtsov, a Russian politician opposed to Putin who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February.
“I had the opportunity earlier this year to present an Atlantic Council Freedom Award posthumously to Boris Nemtsov. As we all know, he had been tireless in promoting freedom and openness in Russia, and I remember, I presented the award to his daughter and I think she very aptly summarized the threat posed by Russia propaganda.
“She said, ‘Russian propaganda kills. It not only kills reason and common sense, it literally kills.’”
Benjamin Ziff, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, also testified that the Kremlin’s $1.4 billion “disinformation” campaign is “an attack on the truth.”
“We have all heard the popular Kremlin refrains asserting that there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, that Ukraine is on the verge of collapse, or that Americans – and not corrupt leaders – are the cause of domestic discontent overseas.
“The Kremlin sponsors this disinformation with a sophisticated $1.4 billion-a-year propaganda apparatus at home and abroad which claims to reach 600 million people across 130 countries in 30 languages.
“In the face of the Kremlin’s attack on the truth, the free flow of reliable, credible information is our best defense,” Ziff continued.
“In the fiscal year 2015, the State Department and USAID allocated $66 million in U.S. Foreign Assistance funding to sustain civil society and independent media in Eurasia and Southeast Europe, of which, more than $16 million supports independent media,” he noted.
Ziff also mentioned specific U.S. efforts to combat Russian propaganda: “A Russian outlet tweeted a Photoshopped photograph of our ambassador in Russia, his presence purportedly at an opposition rally when in fact he was nowhere near there.
“And within two hours, our embassy in Moscow had Photoshopped our ambassador on the moon, at a ice hockey rink, and doing other ridiculous things which highlighted that this was pure propaganda and didn’t work.
“This tweet was retweeted extensively within Russia. So that’s another example, a tactical example of how we would fight back against a particular message.”
Dr. Leon Aron, resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, discussed Russia’s propaganda goals, saying that “Russian propaganda uses the idea of a plurality of truths to feed disinformation, which in the end looks to trash the information space.”