U.S. funds VPN firms to help Russians evade censors and access the truth about the Ukraine war

Most Ukrainians – even in Russian-speaking regions – have not welcomed the invasion, so her brandishing of the Soviet flag was used as proof that its actions have support among local people.

Most Russians even don’t know the reality of the Ukraine war.

The US government has pushed new, increased funding into three technology companies since the start of the Ukraine conflict to help Russians sidestep censors and access Western media, according to five people familiar with the situation.

The financing effort is focused on three firms that build Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) — nthLink, Psiphon and Lantern — and is designed to support a recent surge in their Russian users, the sources said.

VPNs help users hide their identity and change their online location, often to bypass geographic restrictions on content or to evade government censorship technology.

Reuters spoke to executives at all three US government-backed VPNs and two officials at a US government-funded nonprofit organisation that provided them with financing — the Open Technology Fund (OTF).

They said the anti-censorship apps have seen significant growth in Russia since President Vladimir Putin launched his war in Ukraine on February 24.

Between 2015 and 2021, the three VPNs received at least $US4.8 million ($6.9 million) in American funding, according to publicly available funding documents reviewed by Reuters.

Since February, the total funding allocated to the companies increased by almost half in order to cope with the rise in demand in Russia, the five people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Posters advertising nthLink and other US-government-backed VPNs, as well as independent Russian-language media outlets, have appeared in Moscow since the start of the war, according to three people familiar with the matter.

One homemade poster pasted in a Moscow apartment building in the month after the invasion said: “Read about Russia and Ukraine in Russian. Knowing the truth is not a crime!”

Below that, a QR code links to nthLink, according to a photo of the poster reviewed by Reuters that was corroborated by three separate sources.

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