The US Continues to Flub the Information War on Ukraine – Give credit to the Biden administration. After a slow start, the White House and Pentagon have done great work to ensure Ukraine has (most of) the weapons it needs when it needs them. There remains one major deficit in U.S. strategy, however: the information war.
Military academies teach the DIME model: every coherent strategy has a diplomatic, information, military, and economic strategy. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Diplomatically, the United States has helped rally and direct a fissiparous Europe. NATO has a renewed sense of mission. Militarily, the supply lines grow. The Biden administration’s economic strategy still tilts more to virtue signaling than substance. Sanctions on Russia are important, though, as former Treasury Department official Marshall Billingslea shows, the Kremlin continues to take advantage of their many loopholes.
Where is VOA?
U.S. investment in the information landscape, however, continues as if Russia never launched Europe’s largest land war since World War II. Voice of America’s Ukrainian service broadcasts Ukrainian language television less than six hours per week. VOA Russian programming is only about twice that.
VOA wastes much of that programming, however, on entertainment, technology, or human-interest topics better covered by commercial stations. Acting Director Yolanda Lopez continues to divert funding into documentaries and other vanity projects.
Giving such short shrift to such programming is self-defeating, especially for a team that blamed its predecessors for relying too often on military rather than diplomatic tools. While many men fled conscription after Russia’s initial assault on Ukraine floundered, too many other Russians remain at the front. Too often, Americans mirror image. They cannot believe why any Russian would believe President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda.
Most Russians from birth to death live in a media bubble. They may not support the war, but still believe Putin’s categorization of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a Nazi or the aggressor. They may also believe Putin’s assurances about progress on the battlefield. VOA could burst the Russian bubble.
VOA should broadcast in Russian 24/7 on FM, AM, and shortwave radio to give real news: Estimated casualties. Daily battlefield assessments. Interviews both with Ukrainians liberated from Russian occupation and with Russians who fled to make money in the Caucasus or Eastern Europe. Reports of Russians fragging abusive officers. Putin’s luxurious lifestyle and corruption.
VOA should be available to every Russian in the trenches wondering about why they are risking their lives. It should also aim to convince young Russians to flee conscription calls. The broadcaster might also discuss the works and writings of Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Garry Kasparov, and other liberal-minded Russian opposition leaders. Biden’s team (and Congress) should ask why its appointees at VOA hire journalists with pro-Kremlin track records.
The best way to defeat Russian power is to erode its military without a shot being fired. While there is no substitute for military assistance, enhancing America’s Russian-language broadcasting would be a small investment relative to the investment in weaponry.
A year into the Ukraine War, VOA’s failure should be a scandal, one whose rectification could save not only taxpayer money, but also Ukrainian lives.
Author Expertise and Experience
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).