ATA Conference in Ukraine 29/01/2016 | Dr. Serhiy DZHERDZH’s remarks

SERHIY DZHERDZH, Ph.D., Head of the NATO-Ukraine Civic League, ATA memberSERHIY DZHERDZH, Ph.D., Head of the NATO-Ukraine Civic League, ATA member

ATA Conference

“Countering Information War in Ukraine”

Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Kyiv, 29 January 2016

Russian Propaganda’s Influence In Regions Of Ukraine

Head of the NATO-Ukraine Civic League, ATA member

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have indeed learnt a great deal from the two conferences we hosted at the end of last year.

By analyzing what is at play, by looking at research on information warfare, it is possible to see that what is going on in Ukraine fits with the definition of information warfare.

Information is the keyword here. Information warfare is the way to use data to influence people’s minds in order to make them join your cause. Only 15% of information is perceived consciously while the rest is perceived unconsciously. Images, shared on TV for example, are much easier for us to grasp than words, and they often speak much louder than words. They have the potential to trigger emotions, which leaves no place for rational reasoning. By using a smart combination of words and images, and by continuously repeating the same information, it becomes reality, making disinformation hard to fight.

In recent years, Russian media have been increasingly referring to the Ukrainians as Nazi sympathizers, a rhetoric which dates back to the Second World War’s Russian imagery. Russian media have been featuring some footage of Ukrainian soldiers whose helmets were decorated with SS signs. These images were the result of video editing tricks which contribute to forming a chain of negative reactions in Russia. It came to a point that Russian media manipulators even resorted to the creation of fictitious news about Ukraine via simulation and actors. This is the way Russian media manipulators work and wage information warfare against Ukraine, by appealing to old stereotypes which in turn create a threatening image of Ukraine.

Starting a hybrid war (we remember the little green men on our side of the border), Russia caught Ukrainian forces off guard, which highly demoralized the Ukrainian population. However, the Russians cannot secure a total victory because only a portion of Ukraine supports what is going on in Crimea. Putin thus needs to influence those who do not side with him, hence the recourse to information warfare and pro-Russian propaganda in Ukraine. The Kremlin understands very well that wars cannot be won without the consent of the population. Information campaigns and semantic wars, however, have that power by winning over the minds of the people. Only then can a territory be fully conquered.

Ukraine should take action to counteract the Russian warfare tactics. Ukraine has so far been resorting to defensive methods. It is now time to attack. Here is what we should do:

1) Resorting to defense leads to defeat. We need initiative and counterattacks. It is necessary to expose the problems Russia is facing. It is a widespread belief that the truth is always a defense, but sometimes the truth should be made a weapon of offense. War is not only about defense and attack on what threatens us directly; it’s a war that should be waged on enemy territory. Russia itself is facing much deeper problems, stemming from such issues as: religions, languages, social, national, ethnic groups and economy. We must inform the public about what is really happening there.

2) Decision-making in Russia is faster than in Ukraine. It is time to make adjustments in the decision-making system to counter Russia’s pressure. The speed and urgency of communication is extremely important and war should be addressed with extraordinary measures.

3) It is important to block and ban those TV channels which spread hatred and war-mongering. Some Ukrainian TV channels are also infamous for their controversial content which is fuelled by Russian propaganda. Media owners should be encouraged to uphold their civic stance.

4) An important question is foreign broadcasting on information space of Russia. Today Russia follows the path of self-isolation. But we must counteract. Partly, this function could be performed by Ukrainian channels. What is important is actual broadcasting of nationwide Ukrainian channels in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics.

5) We have to make television transmission centres more powerful in areas bordering the occupied territories. Expand the sphere of radio signals emitted by Ukrainian radio stations to occupied territories. Create new Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea television studios instead of those which were captured by Russian proxies. The television transmission centres in the occupied territories, which transmit Russian propaganda channels, must be disconnected. As long as the occupation continues there should be no television in the occupied territories, especially if they are used for Russian propaganda.

6) Putting forward the openness of the Ukrainian government could be an effective factor of fighting corruption and triggering real changes. There are many factors, like religion, language and geography which help to sow seeds of discord within Ukraine, but a strong connection between society and the authorities, on the basis of mutual trust, can be an efficient counteraction to such challenges. One of the trends of Russian propaganda is to alienate citizens from the state.

We need more creative ideas from Ukraine. We have to present ourselves in a positive light and share the truth rather than only debunking what Russia is trying to make Ukrainians believe.

The main strategy must be centered around what people believe rather than what Russia wants them to see as the truth. Ukraine, with the help of West, can wage this war against it mighty neighbors. The first step is to make people realize that they are being fed wrong information and utilized to destroy their country, Ukraine.

I am sure that more precise action steps will be detailed in the next panel but I really wanted to share with you what has come up during our previous two conferences.

I would now like to open the floor to your questions. Thank you.