What is to be expected from Russia on the information war front?

What is to be expected from Russia on the information war front?

17 Березня 2022

What is to be expected from Russia on the information war front?

17 Березня 2022
What is to be expected from Russia on the information war front?
What is to be expected from Russia on the information war front?
We have some victories, that is for sure, but the struggle continues, and we should start preparing for the next stage right now.


The Kremlin tried to fill the information space with fakes and garbage in the early days of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And it worked at first. We at Detector Media caught at least 25 unique samples of Russian disinformation in the first days of the offensive, and the editorial email was full of requests to check some information. However, Ukrainian governmental and non-governmental centers of communication quickly got their act together on informing the public and resisting Russian disinformation. Authorities regularly give briefings, and the trust for the state communication channels grows unprecedentedly. For example, we could mention the Telegram channel of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Government chairman Vitaliy Kim who gained more than 650 thousand subscribers in two weeks. Television front also has some positive development, as the largest Ukrainian TV channels make their broadcasts into the cooperative marathon. These steps are effectively combined and bear fruit: 92% of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine will be able to fight off Russia's attack.

The impotence of Russian disinformation also adds up to our confidence. I have been researching various Kremlin information operations, have been collecting and analyzing them for years. However, I have never seen such a botchery — until now. There are lots of obvious mistakes of Russian-Ukrainian translation, as well as tropes of pig lard and Bandera. It seems that Russian disinformation experts have absolutely no understanding of what Ukrainians live on. We haven’t lived to see Zelensky's promised deepfake. The despair that shows in closing Russia's information space down is just another evidence of the defeat of the Kremlin propaganda. The occupiers are trying to literally destroy the signal, that is, destroy TV towers, turn off the Internet and electricity in Ukraine. And they turn on Russian television in those places where they succeed.

It all makes me want to say that Russian propaganda in Ukraine has lost totally. However, you should not sigh with relief. Ukrainians definitely have some victories on the information war front. We have really done well, that is why it is so important to be on guard now. The victory in a kinetic war can be comprehended, that is, it can be clearly outlined and felt, but the information war does not work like this.

Ukrainian information shield is based on unity. Unfortunately, there were a lot of clumsy Russian fakes that Ukrainians were willing to spread before the full-scale invasion. At present, the unity of Ukrainian people contributes greatly to the information stability. The political struggle and Facebook squabbles have waned, and Ukrainians are motivated to support and help each other.

It is important to understand that the society, as well as a human body, cannot be in this charged state for a long time. Therefore, the euphoria of unity will naturally decline. Add to this the fatigue and moral exhaustion, and you will have exactly what our enemy on the information war front will play upon. It means dividing Ukrainians as much as possible in places of all the social cracks they can find. Some of these cracks had been discovered by Russia a long time ago, so it was regularly investing resources to expand them, deepen them and turn them into chasms.

If we roughly divide all the events into those that bring us closer or further away from victory, and paint them correspondingly white and black, the Russian strategy will consist in achieving the maximum level of grey shades. That is, making the discussions destructive, and losing the focus of importance. This applies to both Ukrainian and international information space.

While analyzing Ukrainian information space, we can single out the following key areas of Russian disinformation of the new stage.

Adaptation of Russia's usual rhetoric of "Ukraine as an insolvent state." We have been listening to such stories for years, but now the enemy will use gossips about "milking the humanitarian aid" and corruption schemes. In general, it will try to show that something does not work in the state. For example, we already see stories of someone not receiving their social benefit, or attempts to incite betrayal, saying that the "COVID thousand" will not be paid. Exploiting the subject of mobilization is also among such measures. Here, the authorities need to communicate much more clearly, because the messages like "my wife's sister's neighbor said that her son was caught in the middle of the street and sent to war" is very harmful.

Discrediting the military and territorial defense locally. We see efforts to discredit the country's political leaders all the time, for example, by stating that Zelensky has left the country. So far, Russia had no success in it, so it decided to go down to the local level. The fake stories of the representatives of the western regions territorial defense allegedly siphoning off huge sums of money are already recorded. And there will be more of such stories.

It is better to have peace on any terms than active combat. We have been seeing such a message in some Kremlin Telegram channels from the very beginning of the invasion. However, the more civilians fall victims to the offensive, the more persistent are the propagandists in trying to persuade Ukrainians that we do not need Crimea or Donbas if it means that so many people have to die. It is very important to get across to people that Russia will not stop. That is, there will be no guarantee of security for Ukraine if the peace is not on our terms.

Domestic political quarrels and troubles. The first days of panic and shock are passing, so different political forces will predictably emerge from various crevices — some already have started. Every political force and every person with political ambitions will form its or their own community. Such communities are often formed by splitting from the general mass. Russia has been very adept at fueling the quarrels of our politicians. The relentless work of anonymous Telegram channels with their "insights" and "layouts" prove this.

Language issue. If you think that the language issue is finally resolved, unfortunately, you are wrong. Yes, it is artificial and inflated by Russian propaganda. However, this is the horse Russia will not get off from, even if it dies. Moreover, now it can have an unexpected and negative effect. For example, some Russian-language Ukrainian groups on social networks are trying to make toxic memes about "palyanytsia" shibboleth. Bot-like profiles urge Russian-speaking people feel like they are worse Ukrainians or not Ukrainians at all, because they can't pronounce this word. Let us face it: a part of Ukrainian citizens do not speak Ukrainian. Proving that these people are not Ukrainians will not be of any use to our cause. Therefore, patriotism should not be measured in this way. Again, let us be united, not divided.

Disappointment in NATO, the EU and Ukraine's international partners. We at Detector Media have been recording a steady increase of anti-democratic rhetoric on pro-Russian websites and profiles during 2021. At one point, such rhetoric became a canvas for Russian messages. The reality is that Ukrainians really expected more from the world democratic community. However, it is important to understand that the world community still helps us a lot. The amount of money, weapons and goods transferred to Ukrainians is unprecedented, and our citizens receive asylum and assistance abroad. Of course, we want more. The political leadership of our state also overestimates the expectations of the international community.

This is a very fertile ground for disinformation in general. It is not easy to understand the mechanisms of international relations, models of deterrence, and the format of bureaucratic procedures. Even the leading experts not always can keep everything in sight. And when something is very complicated, our brain usually tries to get relieved, so it is ready to be satisfied with a simple explanation. This is the thing of disinformation, so let us get rid of conspiracy theories and accusations against the democratic world. Instead, let us be grateful for what we have and trust our diplomats. They show great results.

What can every Ukrainian do maintain resistance in the next stage of the information war?

Keep calm and fight, as before. We should constantly remind ourselves that the Russian information war aims at dividing Ukrainians and diverting attention in a useless direction so that we fight among ourselves and do not oppose Russia. And there will be lots of causes, such as a Russian propagandist with a poster about the war on Russian television. Social networks got drowning in discussions: some admired her, others saw it all as a ploy of Russian propaganda. As a result, Ukrainians wasted a lot of emotions and time for quarrels with each other. In fact, this event makes not a blind bit of difference for us. In such situations you need to apply the rule of three "so what". That is, first you define a problem, then ask yourself: "so what?" Answer it and ask: "so what?" again. If you have a rational clear answer after three iterations, then it makes sense to do something about it. If not, you had better turn around and move on. Information stability and morale of every Ukrainian are extremely important. Let us remember that Russia will try to divide us, so the best thing we can do is keeping together.

ГО «Детектор медіа» понад 20 років бореться за кращу українську журналістику. Ми стежимо за дотриманням стандартів у медіа. Захищаємо права аудиторії на якісну інформацію. І допомагаємо читачам відрізняти правду від брехні.
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