Thwarting Russia’s propaganda war
MARCH 6TH, 2016
By Borys Humeniuk
Part of Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine in its so-called hybrid war is its use of informational and propagandistic attacks to achieve its cynical purposes. Just as in classic warfare, information warfare sees an aggressor using means far beyond the principles of morality, the rule of law and fair play. It manipulates religious feelings and differences in historical understanding and even children’s psyches.
By embracing full-scale information warfare against Ukraine, Russia illegally annexed Ukrainian Crimea and almost succeeded in convincing the international community that those actions were supported by its population. Using the same means Russia started the war in the eastern regions of Ukraine – Donbas. Information warfare has become as important to its strategy as military action.
Currently, the Russian propagandists using Russian and international mass-media are trying to influence minds, but sometimes the fake information it spreads is too hard to believe. Even the Russian-supporting separatists in Donbas are themselves denying the lies spread by Russian media.
One example of the information warfare Russia is using against Ukraine is the direct and cynical engagement of children, the most vulnerable section of society.
Recently, in January 2016, a chairman of Luhansk Regional Military and Civil Administration of Ukraine, Heorhiy Tuka, claimed that the Kremlin’s propaganda masterminds and their proxies in Donbas sent letters to schools all over Ukraine, which, they wanted everyone to believe, were written by Ukrainian children living in the temporarily occupied area of the Luhansk region in Ukraine and sent to other Ukrainian children.
Those fabricated letters were full of cliched Russian propaganda which were totally unnatural to a child’s way of thinking and echoed the rhetoric of the Kremlin. It hardly needs commenting on; it’s enough just to repeat some phrases of those letters translated from Russian. “You have chosen the Euro-integration path for your development and decided to annihilate the Russian speakers of Donbas, because they don’t like Russians in Europe,” reads one. Another says: “You are receiving rockets from Brussels and your soldiers are shelling our homes.”
Russian propaganda is very well financed and has been effective, but it also makes a lot of mistakes and produces too much fake news. For example, it became obvious that Russia totally overplayed its hand in the well-known Lisa case in Germany.
Lisa is the 13-year-old Russian German girl who went missing for 30 hours. When she returned home, she said she had been kidnapped and raped by several Arab-looking men, an inflammatory charge now at a time of massive immigration to Germany from Syria and the Middle East. The police and her parents dismissed that version. Had the case ended there, no one would have paid a lot of attention, but the Russian propaganda machine decided to use this case in the pursuit of its goal of exacerbating the European refugee crisis and showing the inability of EU member-states to deal with this problem and to protect its citizens. This time the lie was too obvious for Europeans, but next time the propagandists are likely to act more cautiously.
But we can take advantage of these weaknesses and conduct optimal tactics in this information war. We can defend ourselves by immediately responding to all lies with the truth. The Stop Fake resource (stopfake.org) which highlights fake information about events in Ukraine is a good example.
Effective action to counter Russian propaganda in Donbas can reduce the number of people who enroll into separatist forces, and also deprive Russia of the opportunity to involve people from other eastern and southern regions of Ukraine in the confrontation. And if we can succeed in dispelling some myths shared by the Russian leadership, and to decrease support of Russia’s actions among the citizens of some countries, it would significantly weaken Russia’s abilities to escalate military actions in Ukraine.
And last and most important – all the children of Ukraine in east, west, north and south want and need to live in a peaceful, united Ukraine. This is the aim of Minsk agreements, which are being unconditionally implemented by Kiev. This key to peace is the real step Russia should be taking towards peaceful settlement, not fake propaganda exercises.
Borys Humeniuk is ambassador of Ukraine to the Republic of Cyprus