On 6 April, Head of the President’s Office Andriy Yermak presented a new government agency, the Centre for Countering Disinformation, to G7 Ambassadors, representatives of Israel, Finland and NATO in Kyiv. “The purpose of the Centre is to emphasise the importance of protecting the information sphere for Ukraine’s national security, counteracting propaganda, destructive disinformation and campaigns, as well as preventing manipulation of public opinion,” said Polina Lysenko, the head of the newly created agency.
The establishment of the Centre for Countering Disinformation is a logical decision, because Ukraine is currently at the forefront of a hybrid war, an important component of which is information and psychological operations that operate by means of spread of panic, manipulation of the population’s sentiments. Over the years of confrontation with the Russian Federation, Ukraine has accumulated considerable experience in countering fakes and propaganda, so the newly established Centre aims to coordinate the work of government agencies in this area, to cooperate with other countries on information security.
However, it should be noted that the Ministry of Information Policy has been functioning in Ukraine since December 2014, one of the tasks of which is to “protect the information space of Ukraine from external information influence.” However, the newly created Centre is not a structural unit of the Ministry. It was created on the basis of the National Security and Defence Council. Thus, it is embedded in the presidential vertical, and Volodymyr Zelensky himself sees the Centre as “an international hub in the fight against propaganda and fakes around the globe.”
Ukraine, indeed, has made some progress in the field of information security. But, as a rule, it has been made by non-governmental organisations. Thus, since 2014, the StopFake initiative has been operating, which professionally deals with the refutation of false information and disseminates its articles in 12 languages (apart from Ukrainian). InformNapalm volunteer community is also demonstrating high performance in OSINT intelligence and has already gathered a lot of evidence of Russia’s military presence in Donbas. According to Ivan Lishchyna, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine and Government Commissioner for the European Court of Human Rights, “the information gathered by InformNapalm made up a significant part of our evidence in the application filed at ECHR over Russian army’s involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.” Considerable fact-checking work is carried out by VoxUkraine. Recently, Ukrainian NGO “How not to become a deadhead” presented a large-scale study on how disinformation is spread in the Ukrainian Facebook segment.
It is noteworthy that Head of the Centre for Combating Disinformation Polina Lysenko has been unrelated to the above or similar initiatives in her career. She is a lawyer and worked in various government agencies before. The experts from the Institute of Mass Information took note of the legal status of the newly created body, the competence and powers of the National Security and Defence Council in these matters and underscored the following: “It is currently unknown how exactly the Centre will operate, which mechanisms it will use to fight against disinformation, and in the end what exactly it will consider disinformation. The relevant data was not published in any regulations, not mentioned in any interview. Time will tell whether the new agency will manage to become an effective tool, to overcome problems, in particular to find a balance between the protection of Ukraine and the protection of freedom of speech.”