Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Kyiv, 29 January 2016
Russian Propaganda’s Influence In Regions Of Ukraine
Mr. Dmytro RAISKYI
Ukraine Program Manager, Atlantic Treaty Association
My name is Dmytro Raiskyi and I am the Ukraine Program Manager for the Atlantic Treaty Association, or ATA.
ATA is a network of NGOs and Think Tanks whose mission is to support NATO’s work and advance the values set forth in the North Atlantic Treaty, that is the rule of law, freedom, peace and security. We organize events, conferences, make publications and host distinguished figures to strengthen the transatlantic bond among NATO member and partner countries, such as Ukraine.
We are here today for the third and final conference of this series. This initiative came about after ATA was approached by NATO Public Diplomacy Division in February 2015. They asked us to evaluate the impact of information warfare in Ukraine, with a particular emphasis on predominantly Russian speaking regions of Ukraine, and not just in Kiev. The idea was to gather data from different regions in Ukraine in order to determine the impact of Russian propaganda, to engage local stakeholders in the discussion, and to work with local officials, media and the civil society leaders to determine a tailored approach to countering Russian propaganda influence, one region at a time.
The West and NATO currently find themselves in a situation of disadvantage against Russia’s information war in Ukraine. The Kremlin spreads its ideas with an ardent zeal, convincing Ukrainians of the righteousness of its politics and demonizing the West. It is clear that Russia’s propaganda machine is a sophisticated tool, and it works. The Kremlin makes massive financial injections into its media outlets and it does not seem like they will ever stop doing so. The Kremlin’s propaganda is very complex – it does not only spread its myths via main state-owned TV channels and news websites, it has infiltrated entertainment TV shows, music channels, gutter press. It is also backed by an army of trolls who function as online commentators, flooding the comment sections with anti-Western messages, and cheering for Putin’s regime.
NATO is concerned about the Kremlin’s media offensive in Ukraine and all the myths that it disseminates. Russia’s disinformation campaign actively portrays the Alliance as the main instigator of the crisis in Ukraine. Thus, a comprehensive part of our mission in Odesa and Dnipropetrovs’k was to design collectively with local stakeholders, especially with journalists, an effective strategy to inform and educate the local population on NATO’s real values and functions.
We chose two administrative centres of Ukraine’s regions, namely Odesa and Dnipropetrovs’k to hold the conferences. The choice of these two cities was grounded on the fact that both cities have large Russian speaking populations. The ultimate goal of the conferences was to gather local influential stakeholders in order first to assess the influence of the pro-Kremlin and pro-separatist propaganda in those regions, and second, through collective debate and shared expertise, to design an effective mechanism of counter-balancing Russia’s disinformation campaign. We reckoned it was vital to engage professionals of different backgrounds in a debate in order to get the full picture of Kremlin-led media in each region. The conferences welcomed government officials, representatives of civil society, independent journalists and freelance bloggers, mainstream media, academics and public activists.
In both regions, the participants agreed that the pro-Russian disinformation campaign is strong and influential. The first step in counter-balancing Moscow’s strategy must promote the objectiveness of the local media. Many academics and public activists stated that there is an almost complete lack of independent media both in Odesa and Dnipropetrovs’k. The overall quality of journalism is quite low, TV news and printed press do not stick to the rules of professional journalism and prefer to report scandalous stories with catchy headlines rather than offer a balanced and unbiased coverage of events in Ukraine. It was concluded that people in the regions are not used to perceiving information they receive in a critical fashion, thus making them vulnerable to the information they are presented. There must therefore be a massive campaign of adequate and impartial coverage of the events in Ukraine done by journalists. It has been revealed that, in Odesa in particular, the acute issue is the complete lack of Ukrainian printed press available in stores. The news-stands in the region are packed with Russian pro-Kremlin newspapers and magazines which actively slander NATO, the European Union and the West in general. To give you an example, Mikheil Saakashvili, the Governor of Odesa Oblast and ardent supporter of NATO, perpetually undergoes calumnies on the pages of those newspapers.
During the Odesa conference, the participants had the chance to discuss how to deal with pro-Kremlin reportages on local TV and radio with the official representative of Ukraine’s State Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting, Mr. Oleksandr Salabay. After this briefing, he assured that the Council was monitoring local media closely, but asked the journalists and participants to file immediate reports about local media disseminating pro-separatist content and promised that swift actions from the Council will ensue. Participants also shared their strategies to counter Russian propaganda with Yulia Marushevskaya, Odesa Governor’s Deputy. She promised to pass on all the policy recommendations to the Odesa government, which will try to cooperate more actively with local media and will do its best to support and promote independent media. Inna Tereschenko, Conflict Studies Expert at Odesa State Mediation Group, stated that we must put an end to using the dichotomous language of pro-separatist/pro-Ukraine people in the media. This type of language only produces labels and does nothing to reconcile the divided population of Ukraine. According to her, media should take an explanatory and educational approach to deliver information – this is the only way Ukrainians will be reunited.
It is important to conclude that, as an aftermath of these conferences, ATA has established a solid network with local stakeholders. The communication with them has been kept at an active level. We are constantly informed about TV reportages, newspaper articles which disseminate pro-Kremlin ideas. We are also informed about journalists’ publications which refute those myths and promote fair and balanced journalism.