BBG Watch Commentary
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported that a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee authorized $10 million in annual funding for three years focused on countering Russian propaganda in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, but also U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) had very little information online in Ukrainian and Russian about the bill’s anti-propaganda measures, and none in English.
The authorization is part of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which the committee passed 18-0 on September 18.
The bill prioritizes the funding for Voice of America and RFE/RL broadcasting in the three former Soviet republics over the next three years.
Even though this was U.S. congressional news happening a few blocks from the Voice of America headquarters in Washington, DC, an online search showed that VOA English news website did not report on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s passage of the bipartisan Ukraine Freedom Support Act or the proposed $10 million annual funding for the next three fiscal years to counter Russian propaganda in the former Soviet Union countries by VOA and RFE/RL.
It’s not clear whether Voice of America executives and VOA newsroom journalists may have been ashamed that members of Congress want VOA to counter Russian propaganda, whether they failed to notice the bill, did not think the U.S. Senate action on the bill was important, or simply could not write a few sentences due to limited resources. The Congress is not telling VOA and RFE/RL how to counter Russian propaganda and leaves it to the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees both media outlets, to present a plan.
VOA Ukrainian and Russian websites, however, did have short reports on the Ukraine Support Act action in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But even these reports did not mention that the proposed extra funding of $10 million annually for three years to counter Russian propaganda would be used specifically for VOA and RFE/RL broadcasts and other media outreach.
VOA Russian Service had posted earlier an interesting interview with a British TV producer and journalist Peter Pomerantsev on the topic of Russian propaganda, but the interview did not deal with Western responses to Russian propaganda or any specific U.S. actions.
VOA management has not provided Russian and Ukrainian services with sufficient resources for adequate, up-to-date coverage of all significant U.S. news dealing with Russia and Ukraine, while the VOA English newsroom has been simply decimated in the last several years. The first order of business for the new BBG CEO, whose name is expected to be announced on Monday, will be to carry out management reforms at VOA and to articulate VOA’s mission.
The bipartisan Ukraine Freedom Support Act was introduced by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN).
Menendez and Corker also wrote Speaker Boehner requesting that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko receive an invitation to speak before Congress, which he did last Thursday on the same day the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee authorized $10 million in annual funding to counter Russian propaganda in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova with Russian-language broadcasting.
It is unclear when and if the bill will come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, RFE/RL reported.
Thanks to RFE/RL, at least one segment of the BBG’s worldwide audience received some information about proposed U.S. responses to Russian propaganda, which involve not only RFE/RL but also VOA.
READ MORE: U.S. Senators Back Funding To Battle Russian ‘Propaganda’, By RFE/RL, Sept. 19, 2014
PDF “Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014” Bill
SEC. 10. EXPANDED BROADCASTING IN COUNTRIES OF THE FORMER SOVIET UNION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall submit to Congress a plan, including a cost estimate, for immediately and substantially increasing, and maintaining through fiscal year 2017, the quantity of Russian-language broadcasting into the countries of the former Soviet Union funded by the United States in order to counter Russian Federation propaganda.
(b) PRIORITIZATION OF BROADCASTING INTO UKRAINE, GEORGIA, AND MOLDOVA.—The plan required by subsection (a) shall prioritize broadcasting into Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova by the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
(c) ADDITIONAL PRIORITIES.—In developing the plan required by subsection (a), the Chairman shall consider—
(1) near-term increases in Russian-language broadcasting for countries of the former Soviet Union (other than the countries specified in sub- section (b)), including Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia; and
(2) increases in broadcasting in other critical languages, including Ukrainian and Romanian languages.
(d) BROADCASTING DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘broadcasting’’ means the distribution of media content via radio broadcasting, television broadcasting, and Internet-based platforms, among other platforms.
(e) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—There are authorized to be appropriated $10,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2015 through 2017 to carry out activities under this section.
(2) SUPPLEMENT NOT SUPPLANT.—Amounts authorized to be appropriated pursuant to paragraph (1) shall supplement and not supplant other amounts made available for activities described in this section.
UNITED STATES SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Unanimously Passes Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014
Washington, DC – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 today by a vote of 18 to 0.
The legislation was introduced by Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) and it imposes broad sanctions on Russia’s defense, energy, and financial sectors, as well as increasing military and non-military assistance for Ukraine.
“We stand as one today in Congress, united in our support for President Poroshenko and the Ukrainian people in their pursuit of peace and democracy in the face of Russian aggression,” Menendez said. “There is no more powerful demonstration of our solidarity with Ukraine than to approve this legislation that imposes tough sanctions against Russia for upending the international order, while providing military assistance to Ukraine during this watershed moment. Russia’s invasion requires a firm and resolute response, and passing the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 demonstrates that unwavering and necessary resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine.”
The legislation requires the president to apply sanctions against:
- Rosoboronexport and other Russian defense firms that contribute to instability in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Syria;
- Companies worldwide that make significant investments in particular unconventional Russian crude oil energy projects;
- Gazprom, if the President determines that Gazprom is withholding significant natural gas supplies from member countries of NATO or further withholds such supplies from countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, or Moldova.
It also authorizes restrictions on foreign financial institutions’ dealings with the United States banking system if it is determined the financial institution has engaged in significant sanctionable transactions related to Russia’s defense and energy sectors, or significant transactions on behalf of any Russian individual or entity that has been sanctioned in connection with the crisis in Ukraine.
This legislation authorizes the president to provide military assistance to Ukraine, to include:
- Providing defense articles, defense services, and training to the Government of Ukraine for the purpose of countering offensive weapons and reestablishing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-armor weapons; crew weapons and ammunition; counter-artillery radars to identify and target artillery batteries; fire control, range finder, and optical and guidance and control equipment; tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and secure command and communications equipment. It authorizes $350 million in fiscal year 2015 to carry out these activities.
It requires the administration to outline a plan for how the United States, other governments, and international organizations will help Ukraine in protecting and assisting persons internally displaced because of the fighting in Ukraine.
The bill requires the administration to work with Ukraine to develop a short-term emergency energy assistance plan that will help Ukraine address a potential fuel and electricity shortage in 2014-15, and authorizes $50 million for fiscal year 2015 in support of these activities. It also requires the administration to develop medium- and long-term plans to increase energy production and efficiency to improve energy security in Ukraine, and authorizes $50 million over three fiscal years for such activities.
Under this bill, the president would need to submit a strategy to Congress that outlines U.S. efforts to strengthen Ukrainian civil society, support independent media, reduce corruption, and increase election-monitoring capacity. This legislation also encourages the president to assist entities in the Ukrainian defense sector to reorient exports away from customers in Russia and to find appropriate alternative markets for their products.
Finally, the bill designates Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia as major non-NATO allies and authorizes $10 million for the next three fiscal years to counter Russian propaganda in the former Soviet Union countries and prioritizes Russian-language broadcasting into Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.