This weekend, Ukrainians will go to the polls to elect a new president. They and the Ukrainian Parliament have ousted former President Viktor Yanukovich from office for breaking his campaign promises to move the country toward greater ties with Europe. Since then, little has been done to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin's brutal campaign of violence, intimidation, propaganda and cessation referendums throughout Ukraine. The Obama Administration and the European Union all but ignored the beginning, middle and end of the Russian campaign to bring the people of Ukraine into its orbit. Today, it's probably too late to save Ukraine. The Kremlin secured it while the West wasn't looking.
Sadly, it's not only Ukraine that's already been lost to Russia. Moldova is being lost quickly, too. But it isn't too late to launch an information war throughout Eastern Europe to stop Russia's roll. The people of the former USSR have been receiving too much one-sided information for too long. The West's inability to compete against the raw intimidation of Putin and his cronies has gone unnoticed by U.S. political leaders. The West must wake up to the unfolding reality. The Obama administration and its press poodles have been blindsided, as the country that was supposed to be America's greatest partner in everything from nuclear nonproliferation to ending the Syrian conflict is trying to stoke war in Europe.
The Obama team needs to realize that capitalism and the free market system are under attack throughout the region. The Kremlin's preferred system of elite, oligarchical rule is winning the hearts and minds of some of Europe's economically frustrated. Russia is not only winning the information war, but overturning much of the work that previous U.S. Administrations did in the Balkans. It seems Putin is unafraid of NATO's military power and is determined to chase it away with his hegemonic agenda. If he succeeds in diverting NATO's attention, Putin may be able to provoke the same panic and conflict in Estonia and Latvia that he stoked in Crimea. Is NATO prepared to defend its Baltic allies against Putin's bogus claims of fascist threats to ethnic Russians?
Leaders in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are fearful that NATO, the European Union and the United States are missing the growing humanitarian crisis unfolding by the raging one-sided propaganda war.
Yet we know our values of greater freedoms, capitalism and government accountability are ideas that people everywhere value. We know that if people are given a real choice for their future, they will chose democracy, the rule of law, and the construction of a modern economy.
The Russians know this, too. Putin realizes he must limit the information people receive. It is why his henchmen are so determined to shut down the independent media. Putin's allies in Crimea, the self-proclaimed 'prime minister' Sergei Aksenov, shut down an independent Ukrainian TV channel and replaced it with a Russian one. The Kremlin's Prosecutor General's Office has been shutting down one free website after another in an effort to limit what information Ukrainians receive. Even in Moscow, Putin has imposed legal restrictions on Radio Free Europe's broadcasts.
This is why President Obama must launch an information war immediately. Instead of shutting down Radio Free Europe's Balkan service or shrinking independent media choices in the region, the Obama Administration should surge the funding of the 65 year old U.S. Congress-funded radio network. Obama and Congress must fight the Putin propaganda machine raging throughout Eastern Europe.
Putin understands more than Obama does that the Balkans' ethnic tensions are still boiling. The chaos in Ukraine serves as a reminder that those tensions could erupt rather quickly, and could spark a regional conflict that would undoubtedly distract the U.S. even further. The gains that have been made in Kosovo will evaporate quickly. And Montenegro, which currently wants to join the EU and NATO, will face an economic and political crisis if Russia isn't confronted soon.
Like it or not, the Obama Administration will have to confront the Russian information war sooner rather than later. The question remains, how many countries will have fallen before President Obama realizes he is already losing the war?