Russia actively uses both Ukrainian and Western politicians, political scientists, journalists, and public activists to spread its narratives in the Ukrainian information space. In addition to Ukrainian influencing agents and public opinion leaders, Russia actively involves European politicians, especially the European Parliament members, in its propaganda in Ukraine. The expert group of the publication “Russian octopus in action: the case “Ukraine” tells about Moscow’s task. That is to return Ukraine to Russia’s geopolitical influence zone and introduce Kremlin ideas in Ukraine via Europe, which is much more trusted than Russia by a large part of our country’s population.
The main goal of the information war by the Russian Federation against Ukraine is the same as of all Russian hybridism – to return Ukraine to the zone of the Russian Federation’s geopolitical influence. To reach it there is a need to hinder Ukraine’s cooperation and rapprochement with Western democracies and to prevent its accession to the European Union and NATO.
According to the competent authorities of Ukraine, information operations against our country are carried out by:
- Information Security Centre of the Russian Federation Federal Security Service (on the territory of Ukraine);
- the Main Intelligence Directorate’s subdivision on special influencing measures of the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence General Staff (both on the territory of ORDLO and Ukraine’s territories adjacent to the demarcation line);
- a unit on special influencing measures of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service (via third countries).
The main tactical goals of FSB information operations on the territory of Ukraine, according to the SBU counterintelligence are the following:
- the formation of frustration, disbelief, and the prospects’ absence feeling regarding the path chosen in 2004 and 2014 in the direction of Western democracy in the patriotic population segments;
- strengthening the desire of the pro-Russian population to resume dialogue with Russia on the Kremlin terms;
- return of the territories occupied by the Russian Federation (except Crimea) to Ukraine on the Kremlin terms and granting them the right to block any rapprochement of Ukraine with the EU and NATO;
- Ukraine’s refusal to return Crimea;
- change of the current Ukrainian government and political elite to pro-Russian ones.
Among the tactical purposes of the Russian Federation’s military intelligence’s information operations in Ukraine’s occupied territories are:
- formation of the population’s feeling of impossibility to return to Ukraine at the current pro-Western course;
- setting up hatred for the current Ukrainian government, for the EU, NATO, and the West as a whole;
- blaming Ukraine for socio-economic problems;
- creating a positive image of the Russian Federation and its leadership;
- promoting the integration of the occupied territories into the linguistic, informational, and cultural space of Russia;
- creation of pre-conditions for return to Ukraine after the power change to pro-Russian one.
Information special operations with the mass media usage
In the seventh year of the Russian hybridisation against Ukraine, it is already clear that its information component is no less dangerous for our country’s future than Russian tanks. Information attacks do not take lives, but poison the minds of citizens and distort public opinion. The Russian Federation conducts a large-scale information campaign aimed at establishing control (restoring) over Ukraine, keeping it in its sphere of influence, dispersing Ukrainian statehood, and preventing the Russian imperial project factual liquidation.
Within the framework of this campaign, there are several special information operations:
One nation, one language, one culture
Language is the most indicative characteristic of a person’s identity, so to prevent Ukraine’s identity formation/restoration, Russia exerts intense pressure to block Ukrainian society Ukrainization. The former adviser to the Russian President Andrei Illarionov claims that Vladimir Putin started the current war against Ukraine six months before the Crimea occupation. The war began with language aggression during Putin’s visit to Kyiv on 27 July 2013, when the President of Russia, who had previously pronounced “in Ukraine,” switched to the grammatical form “on Ukraine.” Soon after Putin, Moscow Patriarch Kirill, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and other Russian dignitaries and officials switched to using the “on Ukraine” form. This transition emphasises that Ukraine is only a geographical part of the territory of Russia inhabited by “Ukrainians,” i.e. those who live next to the frontier (“krai”- Ed.).
The activity in this dimension was defined during Putin’s numerous speeches. He stated that Ukrainians are an artificially created people, never existed historically, that the Ukrainian language is a dialect of Russian, and that there is no Ukrainian culture, which is just a part of Russian culture. These information materials were disseminated actively, events took place, and speeches of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians were made.
For Russia’s imperial project’s successful existence, there is a need to create beliefs about its greatness and significance. As there are no facts and events that could be interpreted in this way and identify Russia as a superpower in Russia’s modern history. In particular, the low standard of living of the vast majority of the population compared to leading countries, low technological level, and mainly a raw materials economy – dependence on prices and volumes of oil and gas export. To create an image of the greatness and Russians’ pride of their country, they choose the victory in World War II (in Russia – victory in the Great Patriotic War). Russia spread the “Great Victory” cult to all the former Soviet Union countries, including Ukraine. The deviation from her paradigm of World War II events’ coverage is interpreted as “fascism” and condemned.
In this way, the Russian Federation tries to prevent the creation of Ukraine’s own, national, view of historical events, to form a national vision of history as a basis for the conception of national Ukrainian identity.
Creating Ukraine’s image as a failed state
Within this operation framework, there are the steps to discredit Ukraine’s top military and political leadership, accuse them of corruption, and inability to solve urgent people’s problems. Then, to represent Ukraine as an unreliable international partner, failing to fulfil its obligations and Ukrainian politicians as dependable on external influence, etc.
Provoking mass riots
During this operation, pro-Russian social networks, mainly in different regions of Ukraine, disseminate destructive information materials, provoke mass riots (including under patriotic slogans), and actively involved new fans, according to their Russian supervisors’ plan.
Another area of this operation is the inspiration of regional separatism in Ukraine. An example is the attempts to create the so-called Bessarabian People’s Republic in 2015 in several Odessa region’ districts. The SBU actions stopped these attempts, and those who were the most active in these actions were either convicted or deported.
This operation’s information campaigns focused on setting up a long-term belief in Russia’s non-involvement in the armed aggression against Ukraine in Ukraine, Russia, and the world community. Besides, their purpose was to present it as a purely internal conflict, evasion of responsibility for crimes committed by Russian troops against humanity.
There are several such informational actions like “they are not there.” In particular, Russian troops are not on the territory of Ukraine, the destruction of flight MH-17 is a “crime” of the Ukrainian military, there were no illegal actions of Russia during the attack and capture of Ukrainian boats in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018.
The basic purpose of the actions within the framework of this operation is to create the Russian and Ukrainian population’s conviction in the non-involvement of the Russian Federation in the military aggression against Ukraine, to present it as a “civil war.”.Besides, they try to influence the international community to deprive Ukraine of international support, prevent international organisations and courts from making decisions accusing Russia of committing armed aggression and committing war crimes.
The accusation of Ukraine of committing war crimes
On the information resources of quasi-state formations in the Donetsk and Luhansk occupied territories (so-called “LPR/DPR”), information materials are posted daily accusing the Armed Forces of Ukraine of violating the Minsk agreements, using large-calibre weapons systems and ammunition, prohibited by international agreements and conventions, for example, “phosphorus” ammunition, although these types of ammunition were not used by Ukraine’s Armed Forces of Ukraine, but by the Russian occupation, forces.
After placing such messages on the information resources “LPR/DPR,” they are distributed via the Russian Federation central channels with the appropriate links, in social networks and thus start in the information space of Ukraine.
Forcing a decision beneficial for Russia
As a part of this operation, information campaigns and actions are executed constantly. During them, the narratives, fake news, contradictory research, or expert opinions aimed at changing public opinion in general, and individuals authorised to make certain decisions beneficial to Russia are thrown into the information space. Usually, such actions are carried out on the eve of international visits, consideration the cases in which the defendant is the Russian Federation by international courts, the conclusion of interstate or trade agreements, which, in the Russian Federation view, threaten its interests, and so on.
Author’s group of the publication “Russian octopus in action: case” Ukraine “under the Mikhailo Gonchar leadership. Based on the research of the expert group under the auspices of the Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI” with the support of International Foundation “Vidrodgennya”