June 10, 2016

Soviet-Russian propaganda and disinformation


This month a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives titled “Countering Foreign Propaganda  and Disinformation Act of 2016.” The two co-sponsors, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, (R-Ill.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), made no secret of the fact that the thrust of the bill involves Russian disinformation about Ukraine. To say that action on the part of the U.S. to counter Soviet-Russian propaganda is long overdue is an understatement. Had America acted accordingly almost a century earlier, much unpleasantness and more importantly unfairness could have been avoided.

Like the terror encouraged by Lenin and his successors, Soviet-Russian propaganda and disinformation were and continue to be hallmarks of the regimes. The Soviet-Russian record on the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932-1933 is a glaring example. To date they have denied its existence. They went so far as to purge their own 1937 census and manipulate the results of the 1939 census. Another example is the massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn forest. For the longest time they accused the Nazis. Only a few years ago the Russians symbolically finally acknowledged Stalin’s culpability.

The West and, in particular, the U.S. (the West’s leader) simply turned a blind eye.  Sometimes it even collaborated. One glaring example was the collaboration of the U.S. Department of Justice with the Office of the Soviet Procurator in the late 1970s and 1980s in denaturalizing and deporting American citizens, sometimes to the USSR, where they faced execution. The Soviets produced the “eyewitness testimony” and the “documentation.” The witnesses testified before a Soviet procurator and the original documents remained in the custody of a representative of the Soviet Embassy. American jurisprudence no longer included the right to confront one’s accuser or to forensically test documentation. In fact, the Soviets initiated proceedings by planting accusations in propaganda periodicals.

Similarly, Western academia played a not insubstantial role in this campaign. College campuses replete with impressionable and idealistic minds fell victim to unscrupulous educators and agitators, some simply naive – Lenin’s “useful idiots”– but many in receipt of benefits from the Soviets. Soviet propaganda mushroomed, finding fertile ground and a breed of willing propagandists in the West.  Using Marxist doctrines against exploitation and revolutionary slogans, they worked avidly at stupefying America. Recognizing that the message was not that easy to sell, the Soviets spent enormous sums recruiting new agents. Violence often accompanied the revolution.

And then the Soviet Union fell and, in its place, a seemingly democratic Russia arose. Only there was nothing democratic about Russia. Russia succeeded the USSR in theory,  practice and the pursuit of terror, propaganda and disinformation. Soviet history became Russian history. Soviet practices became Russian. Propaganda and disinformation continued, never skipping a beat.

The Soviets, and over the last 25 years their Russian successors, have been experts at this practice. Their factories excelled at fabricating documents. Their historical archives were neither archival nor historical. They became a useful tool for planting fabrications.  Not surprisingly, even objective and seemingly professional researchers have found it difficult to accept the fact that any document in a so-called Soviet archive needs to be addressed skeptically.  Soviet-Russian archives do include  authentic documents,  but the history of the USSR and Russia does not allow for a presumption of authenticity. Fabricated documents were planted among authentic ones to lend authenticity to the fabricated ones. Thus, even seemingly authentic documents from Soviet Russian archives must be tested forensically, through identification, etc.

Both agents and a new breed of “useful idiots” have been the implementers of Soviet-Russian disinformation. This has been particularly true in the world of academia. Some have been more clandestine in their identity and purpose, others manifestly belonged to Soviet friendship societies or expressed their Marxist bent. Ukrainian Americans and Ukrainian Canadians have had their fair share of both.  Many names are known. Their platform is often provided by sometimes unwitting, but more often compensated, co-conspirators. After all, the USSR spent and Russia continues to spend significantly on propaganda and disinformation. It is the essence of hybrid war.

One of the more popular targets of Soviet-Russian propaganda has been the independence movement of the Ukrainian people, particularly the liberation struggle of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). The Soviets maligned the OUN as “fascist” as early as 1930, then added “anti-Semitic,” “terrorist” and “fratricidal” to its diatribes. Similar attacks were leveled at the UPA. Later, much press was given to the Ukrainian diaspora as “Banderite” war criminals. Even the nationalistic Ukrainian diaspora youth was assailed by the Soviet press as “Hitlerjugend.”

A proactive campaign of information confronting disinformation is a necessity. Hopefully, the truth will prevail. But, it has little chance unless it finds emissaries.  Silence is as pernicious as the disinformation itself. This act by the U.S. Congress is at least a first step.