Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the US has increased funding of technology companies to help Russians get around internet censorship and access US state-funded media, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The effort is focused on financing three companies that build Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which allow users to circumvent geographic internet restrictions. Between 2015 and 2021, the three firms — nthLink, Psiphon, and Lantern — received $4.8 million in funding from the US government.
Since February, the funding for the three VPN companies has increased by nearly half. The financing is done through the Open Technology Fund (OTF), a non-profit funded entirely by the US government that Washington uses to support protesters in other countries by giving them tools to avoid surveillance and get around internet censorship.
The OTF is overseen by the US Agency for Global Media, which runs US state-funded media, including Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In March, Russia restricted access to VOA’s website for publishing what it called “unreliable information” about the war in Ukraine.
But through the VPNs funded by the US government, Russians are still able to access VOA and other US state-funded media outlets. The Reuters report said that VPN use in Russia has significantly increased since the war started and Russia added internet restrictions.
The report said that posters advertising nthLink and other US government-backed VPNs started appearing in Moscow once the war started. One poster contained a QR code that opened nthLink, which takes a user to a series of news headlines from US state-funded media.
The report reveals the latest example of the US stepping up efforts to influence people inside Russia since the war started. In May, the CIA published instructions in Russian on its social media accounts on how to access its site on the Dark Web to contact the agency. The idea is for the CIA to get in touch with Russians against the war in Ukraine.