On 24th February, Vladimir Putin unraveled a disastrous military intervention in Ukraine. He termed it as, “special military operation.”
As the death toll is increasing and the Russian military is making its way deeper into Ukraine, Moscow is using harsh tactics to hide the information about the war. It includes banning Facebook and free-form journalism from controlling the spread of “fake news” about its military.
In conjunction with the ongoing Ukrainian invasion, Russia has used disinformation to manipulate videos, news, and social media content using cyber information warfare.
But after years of success, Putin is seemingly losing the war of information.
How is Russia Weaponizing the Information Warfare?
In the recent cyberattacks on the Ukrainian government websites and banks, many Russian spammers hacked into the social media accounts of high-profile individuals. In addition, they shared unverified information about Ukrainians murdering Russians near the border.
The attention turned to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube since the tech giants announced that they would no longer display ads for pro-Russian sites. Hackers linked to the Russian “Ghostwriter” group were banned, but the damage had already been done.
However, this clampdown did not guarantee cyberspace safety in Ukraine to anyone following the online information warfare. Those actions made it clear to the world that governments are actively promoting propaganda that can justify military actions on the ground.
What is Putin’s Pitch?
Moscow has concrete narrative propaganda that it wants its people to believe. During the beginning of the war a few weeks ago, Putin highlighted some key points in an attempt to justify the war.
There are three main elements to Putin’s pitch. Here are the claims:
- Ukraine isn’t a real country: Putin argues that Russia has founded Ukraine. Therefore, it is a part of Russia and must operate under Moscow’s control.
- The west has hijacked Ukraine: Putin believes the west is bridging the borders by entering Ukraine and bringing NATO, along with the US, even closer to the Russian border.
- The Ukrainian Government: Aiming at president Zelensky, Putin states that the Neo-Nazis have taken over Ukraine.
Through these narratives, Putin wants the world to believe that he doesn’t aim to capture Ukraine but defend its neighbors from western infiltration. According to him, Russia’s attack on Ukraine is Putin’s way of protecting the country from a western take over and Neo-Nazi rule.
However, outside the Russian borer, the pitch has not been successful. Almost the entire world views Ukraine as Sovereign Interdependent State with a democratically elected government.
So, how is Russia losing the information war?
International Information Campaign
Not a single body in the International community believes that Russia is conducting a special military operation. Instead, the world is protesting against the war and sympathizing with the unfolding nightmare in Ukraine. The hatred against the current escalation can also be sensed from the recent UN Resolution to Condemn Russia, where 140 votes favored the condemnation over five in against.
Why is Russia Losing the Information War?
The driving reason behind Russia losing the information war even after being a seasoned champion is the commendable information war by the US against Putin’s narratives.
For months in advance, the westers media has warned about an upcoming Russian invasion in Ukraine. While Putin denied the reports and accused, the invasion speaks for itself.
Russia has also failed because Ukraine has also been fighting its information war since the war. Social Media is flooding with Zelensky, army fatigues, and the heroic bravery of Ukrainian troops, along with the stories of immense cruelty from Russia.
With the entire world together, Russia has been failing to put out equivalent war propaganda, both internationally and domestically.
An unprecedented number of Anti-war protests are breaking out across Russia. Last Sunday alone, 4,500 Russians were arrested in more than 50 cities across the country. While Putin might have successfully convinced a section of citizens that he is fighting a just war, young educated Russians have been leaving the country in droves.
How is Ukraine Winning the Information Warefare?
Some Ukrainian lawmakers, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have built a parallel “heroic” narrative amidst propaganda favoring the Russian military operation in the past few weeks.
As Ukraine was being overrun on land, Russian social media was flooded with provocative posts that claimed: “Kyiv wanted to kill Russian speakers.“
Cabinet ministers came out with videos and posted posts about Zelensky joining the army, which later was false. Consequently, some claim that the Ukrainians dominated the online social media battle against Russia.
Ukraine-Russia Information War
Military in Ukraine has responded to the challenge with clear, coherent messages and regular updates. Likewise, Ukraine’s vast and vibrant civil society has supported them by posting credible updates about military engagements and Russian atrocities, as well as inventive memes and patriotic messages in an informal infowar campaign.
Even if Putin achieves a temporary military dominance over Ukraine through overwhelming force, it is unclear how this will lead to a lasting political settlement. The infowar has already been lost, while the brutality of the Russian attack has poisoned bilateral relations for decades.
While Putin’s Russia falls behind a wall of repression, international media organizations should look forward to a post-war future. In a world where Ukraine is unlikely to be conquered, regional correspondents should move from Moscow to Kyiv, where media freedoms and a lack of political pressure will allow them to cover the region effectively.