Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Putin’s War on Truth

Since his full-scale military attack on Ukraine began on February 24, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has cracked down severely on Russia’s information landscape. In addition to blocking access to almost all social media outlets and international news sites and criminalizing speech that does not conform to the Kremlin narrative, Putin has deliberately and forcefully spread propaganda about the war and the Ukrainian state and people.  By depriving the Russian people of access to credible information and controlling state-run media, Putin aims to drum up domestic support for his war of pure aggression on the peaceful, democratic citizens of Ukraine.

At a hearing on March 29, 2022, the U.S. Helsinki Commission heard from three expert witnesses who discussed Putin’s propaganda tools and narratives and offered recommendations for the United States to help ensure that the people of Russia are not cut off from the truth. Parliamentarians from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) also attended, including President of the OSCE PA Margareta Cederfelt (Sweden), and OSCE PA Vice Presidents Pascal Allizard (France) and Irene Charalambides (Cyprus).

Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), who presided over the hearing, compared Putin’s current propaganda and censorship campaigns and practices to the Stalin era and called out claims that Russia is trying to “denazify” Ukraine.

“Putin is building a new iron curtain and attempts to justify his indefensible war and continued attacks against the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) described recent and upcoming hearings, emphasizing the Helsinki Commission’s focus on the war in Ukraine.

He stated, “There’s no higher priority that we have right now than to deal with what Russia has done in violating every single principle of the Helsinki Final Act – every single principle.”

Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) praised the unified bipartisan stance that Republicans and Democrats have taken in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and highlighted the dire consequences ordinary Russians have faced in speaking out against Putin or the war.

“I am particularly grateful to the brave Russians… armed only with truth who have spoken out at great risk to their personal safety,” he said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT) remarked on the intrinsic connection between the war in Ukraine and the war on truth in Russia, emphasizing that as the West fortifies Ukrainian freedom-fighters with arms and equipment, we must also fortify the efforts of truth-tellers.

Fatima Tlis, a journalist with Voice of America, described contemporary Russian propaganda as a combination of old techniques and new technology, comparing disinformation deployed by the Kremlin to a soap opera—intriguing and engaging to the audience. Tlis emphasized that full force propaganda has been deployed against the Russian people for decades and it will require an intelligent strategy to counteract it.

She recommended utilizing humor, referencing a satirical TV show that Putin shut down shortly after coming to power.

“He’s afraid of being laughed at because, you know, the great czar cannot be laughed at,” she observed. “He loses his power. People are not afraid of him anymore if they can laugh at him.”

Peter Pomerantsev, a senior fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, described the need for a coordinated, three-pronged response to Russian propaganda by government entities, tech companies, and media. While Russia is the most pressing challenge, Pomerantsev pointed out that China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries are also engaging in these practices.

He called for comprehensive action to combat the Russian disinformation complex and said, “Where they have troll farms, we will have online town halls.  Where they use disinformation to manipulate people, we will use communication to engage with them as citizens.”

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russian journalist, author, and former host at Echo of Moscow Radio, spoke to the comprehensive program of disinformation that Putin has installed in Russia from his first days in office, and highlighted the difficulties independent media outlets in Russia face, including being forced to cease operations.

He also recalled the Soviet-era example of using radio broadcasts to combat a new information Iron Curtain. “Nothing beats totalitarian propaganda better than the truth,” he said.

Members brought a number of concerns and questions to witnesses, ranging from how to support Russian dissidents, to which techniques would be the most effective in distributing accurate information to Russian citizens.

Related Information

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Responds to Murder of...

Feb 16, 2024

WASHINGTON — Following reports of Alexei Navalny’s death in prison, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following joint statement: “Alexei Navalny dedicated his life to seeing Russia free and at peace. Despite every cruel obstacle Putin placed in his way, even a near-fatal poisoning, he did not waver in his condemnation […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Eyewitness Accounts: Ukrainian Children and Adult Ci...

Jan 31, 2024

  Russia’s abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children and adult civilians as part of its war on Ukraine calls for urgent U.S. and international action to both save Ukraine’s children and civilians and to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes. The Ukrainian government has documented close to 20,000 cases of children taken to Russia […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wilson, Whitehouse, Tillis, Jackson Lee Applaud Incl...

Dec 08, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Helsinki Commissioner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Senator Thom Tillis (NC), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) applauded the inclusion of the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act as part of the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). “We cannot allow authoritarians to extort American […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confiscation for ...

Dec 06, 2023

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its partners and allies have frozen an estimated $350 billion in Russian reserves held abroad. Members of Congress – including members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) – and experts have advocated for governments to confiscate and repurpose these funds […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing – Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confisc...

Nov 30, 2023

HEARING NOTICE – Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confiscation for Ukrainian Victory Wednesday, December 6th 2:00-3:30 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building 608 Stream live here: https://youtube.com/live/9X0Ip2wjogs In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its partners and allies have frozen an estimated $350 billion in Russian reserves held abroad. Members of Congress […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CSCE Leadership Welcomes New Executive Branch Commis...

Nov 07, 2023

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the appointment of three Executive Branch Commissioners to the Commission. CSCE welcomed Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Donet Dominic Graves, Jr., and Department of State Coordinator for […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

Lawmakers say Kara-Murza case spotlights administrat...

Oct 26, 2023

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Freeing Inte...

Oct 25, 2023

The practice of seizing hostages and political prisoners, as well as actively terrorizing civilians is a constant displayed by Hamas in Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine. To highlight issues related to the United States’ strategy to free hostages and political prisoners, last year the Commission’s Ranking Member Congressman Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Fre...

Oct 20, 2023

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 10:00am – 11:30am Longworth House Office Building 1334 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U-5Mj_WQtE Hamas’ hostages and Putin’s political prisoners have seized the world’s attention, showing the depths oppressors around the world will sink to in terrorizing civilians and undermining democracy. Dictators and terrorists use violence to fuel fear in those they seek […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Israel and Ukraine Against Terror

Oct 19, 2023

Terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli and Ukrainian civilians have shocked the world with their cruelty and sophistication. These unprovoked attacks are fueled by transnational terrorist networks that include Hamas, Russia, and the Iranian regime, and which regularly target Ukrainian and Israeli civilians and infrastructure. Israel and Ukraine face common foes in terrorist networks that use […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Israel and Ukraine Against Terror

Oct 13, 2023

Thursday, October 19, 2023 2:00-3:30pm Rayburn House Office Building 2247 Stream here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWxwUk4TvVo Terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli and Ukrainian civilians have shocked the world with their cruelty and sophistication. These unprovoked attacks are fueled by transnational terrorist networks that include Hamas, Russia, and the Iranian regime, and which regularly target Ukrainian and Israeli civilians and infrastructure. […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Has the United Nations Failed Ukraine and t...

Sep 27, 2023

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrBXYsQA0Qk In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the largest land war in Europe since World War II. In its wake, experts and leaders like President Zelenskyy raise serious questions whether a United Nations […]

screen-reader-text