Nearly a year after the presidential election, Americans are finally learning hard details about Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 campaign – just in time to prevent a recurrence of any Moscow-directed interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
On Oct. 30, special counsel Robert Mueller announced the indictments of two former leaders of the Trump campaign while revealing that another former campaign member had pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials about ties with Russian contacts. In addition, Congress learned this week of the extensive disinformation campaign by Russian agents on Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube.
Together, these revelations represent small steps that might eventually help ensure the integrity of the US electoral system. Much more can be done, such as beefing up American cybersecurity and demanding transparency by media giants. Yet the United States can also learn from one of the first countries targeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime with a massive disinformation campaign – Ukraine.
Since the 2014 mass protests in Kiev that ousted a Russian ally, then-President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainians have steeled themselves against Russian influence in their politics and media. Rather than being duped by disinformation, they have embraced their country’s free press and demanded ever-stronger measures against official corruption.
In addition, the country has ended its dependence on Russian gas for its energy supplies. Many Russian-speaking people in a country of 45 million now prefer to use the Ukrainian language and to shun Russian-language media directed from Moscow. Ukrainians also hold firm hopes of joining the European Union and NATO.
To safeguard their democracy, in other words, the Ukrainian people have embraced a national identity based on common ideals of freedom and truth. Defensive measures against foreign meddling are not enough. After years of enduring Russian influence over Ukrainian politicians, citizens there are more demanding of transparency in governance, social media, and the commercial press.
Ukraine’s experience even led it to warn Facebook – back in 2015 – that Russia had planted fake news on the social media platform, according to the Financial Times.
As Americans learn more about Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign, Ukraine provides a lesson in how to respond. A stronger sense of national citizenship can do much to guard the purity of the democratic process.