How the US Funds VPN Services to Help Russians Bypass Censorship

The demand for these services has exploded in the country since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine is also being played out in the field of information. As Reuters reports, the United States has decided to increase funding for domestic companies offering VPN (Virtual Private Network) services. By offering customers to anonymize and locate themselves outside their country of residence, they constitute a tool for circumventing the propaganda and censorship measures at work in Moscow.

Government funds have therefore been circulating since the beginning of the conflict via the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), responsible for American broadcasters internationally. While $4.8 million was awarded to VPN providers between 2015 and 2021, the amount has doubled this year. Figures that USAGM does not confirm precisely.

4 million Russians affected

The beneficiaries are particularly three firms – nthLink, Psiphon and Lantern. According to Laura Cunningham, president of the Open Technology Fund (OTF), an NGO recipient of USAGM funds, an estimated 4 million users of their services last month in Russia.

The Russian government is trying to censor what its citizens can see and say online in order to hide the truth and silence dissidents,” she said. Reuters.

In response, US institutions provided a major publicity campaign on internationally broadcast media, such as Voice of America. Posters urging Russians to use a VPN in the name of the right to information have also been displayed in Moscow.

According to the specialized site Top10VPN, the use of VPNs increased by 2088% when restrictions on foreign media were introduced in Russia. Demand has since fallen, remaining 452% higher than the pre-conflict average.

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