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What has Russian disinformation managed to achieve, why and what to counter it with

26 Min Read

I’m warning you right away – the text will be complicated. With a few non-obvious conclusions. But it is a must-read and a must-discuss. It will be about Russian narratives, mobilization, and the path to victory. And also how to counteract hostile influences.

One of the methods of influencing another society/information space that has been proven over the years is the strategy of strengthening splits. In a very simplistic way, the goal is to achieve the maximum number of separate strata (bubbles) that actively and aggressively conflict with others. Ideally, these executions begin to reproduce conflict narratives without external influence.

Even before the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian society was quite conflicted and polarized. The 2019 elections were not without consequences, but if you remember very well, it was Moscow political technologists led by Pavlovsky who brought us this story back in 2004, launching the “three varieties of Ukraine.” And since then, in one form or another, we have been recreating conflicts within the country (in elections and beyond).

After February 24, 2022, in the first months, there was a period of national unity, when those who did not want to be part of this consensus simply fled abroad and did not prevent us from repelling the enemy. Remember those times. How old conflicts and disagreements were forgotten, how everyone was looking for and finding a place in the common organism, how there were lines at the TCC and it was sometimes very difficult to mobilize if you did not have experience and the necessary military specialty, and that is why TRO, DFTG and the “wild field” near Kyiv appeared. There were enough people and their desire, but not enough weapons and training.

However, we must admit that we underestimated the impact of Russian disinformation on the Ukrainian information space. Moreover, the seed was planted a long time ago, as I have already written.

So, starting in May 2022, as soon as the direct threat of defeat in the war and the occupation of Kyiv disappeared, the influence of Russian special information operations resumed. Moreover, they needed time to change the narrative from “Kyiv will fall in three days” and “the second army of the world” to a realistic one.

In order to keep this text from being too long, I will remind you in a simplified way of the main directions (narratives/theses) of Russian influence in Ukraine:

– Soldiers at the front are poorly supplied;

– The government steals, in many variations from central/local to abstract statements about “the weapons we receive from our allies are for sale” and even “Budanov is taking HIMARS in grain trucks to sell them in Africa.”

– large volunteer funds are stolen, everything is based on small, “people’s” volunteers and ordinary people.

– soldiers are thrown “for meat”, the number of dead is concealed because there are more of them than Russians;

– mobilization is illegal;

– While everyone in the rear is resting, you (the soldiers) are dying for their “lavender latte”;

– there are traitors in power, the war is because of them;

– Ukraine is treating its soldiers/civilians badly and has forgotten about prisoners of war;

– The war in Ukraine is part of a global conspiracy.

As in any high-quality propaganda, Russia combines manipulation with half-truths, the so-called “90/10” method, and outright, grandiose lies, right out of Goebbels. What is important is that Russia launched all these narratives simultaneously and waited for them to start working. It has long been forgotten who first said what, who put it into the information space – people spread it from themselves and are convinced that they themselves came to such conclusions.

And at some point, the political factor came into play. At the end of February 2023, for some reason, someone decided that since we would definitely win in 2023, as stated, for example, by the head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, Budanov, it was time to think about the future “after the victory.” I still shudder when I think of the “forums for the restoration and sustainable peace” and other premature pompous events (while Budanov’s statements, for example, could have been an element of influence on the enemy and/or our allies, who did not take into account that absolutely idiotic and premature conclusions would be drawn from them).

All of this has had a devastating effect on our struggle, which may be decisive in the fact that we will not achieve all of our goals (I will say this very carefully).

First, a large part of society has relaxed. A lot of people who used to go to the TCC from time to time and wait for their turn began to see their future outside the Armed Forces. Others, on the contrary, lacking sufficient physical qualities and skills, were transferred (or left) to assault units and died (there are some of them among my close friends). Still others simply began to live their lives without taking into account the war factor, especially since the infrastructure began to be restored, electricity was available around the clock, and it was spring and there were hopes for the best.

This led to the following problem: at some point, there was a shortage of fighters at the front, and only the Third Assault and Offensive Guards were able to recruit properly. And without making any analysis and conclusions, at some point they began to approach the implementation of the mobilization plan in a manner that was essentially a Russian copy, rooted in Soviet practices – mindless coercion. In the complete absence of proper communication with society.

Once again, I emphasize: from all the irons, you can hear about “victory, access to Crimea by the end of the summer, elections in the fall of 2023, post-war reconstruction ” – and see videos of TCC workers forcibly taking people off the streets. Here, by the way, I would not blame the government, because some representatives of civil society were the first to shout about an “unconditional victory” and decided that the recovery train should not move without them.

In addition, it can be assumed that it was during this period that the demand for “paid services of the TCC” increased dramatically, when those who believed in victory in 2023 logically assumed that it would be better to stay abroad for a few months. Therefore, the military commissars, who also thought that their “golden” time in every sense of the word would soon pass (they had never been so influential and profitable before their position), began “healing sessions for the unfit” and identifying incurable diseases in the healthy. However, all of this required the rapid implementation and overfulfillment of mobilization plans, which led to a brutal and senseless street “headhunting”.

Here, of course, we must “thank” Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, who failed to foresee this problem, failed to organize the communication component of the Ministry of Defense and failed to ensure the organization of normal registration and conscription of persons liable for military service (if we follow the logic that ministers are personally responsible for failures in their work). However, this man will be remembered for artificial scandals about eggs and jackets, not for his failure in the mainstream.

The international direction is also worth mentioning separately. It so happens that our partners have a certain distrust of our government, and for good reason. This distrust is systemic and leads allies to look for alternative sources of information in addition to communicating with the authorities. And from Blinken’s recent meeting, we saw exactly who they are listening to, unfortunately. And it is very tragic for Ukraine that these people had a personal conflict with the Minister of Defense, and that they were also “captured” by this competition for a “future after victory.” Therefore, having heard from both the authorities and self-legitimized “representatives of civil society” about the inevitable victory and corruption, the US logically decided that the assistance provided was enough, that giving the planes was an unjustified risk, and that the Abrams could be kept, along with ATACMS and even more so the F-16.

“In my opinion, we need assault aircraft. F-16s and similar platforms are not attack aircraft. Attack aircraft in the United States are primarily A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. This is also army aviation, but these are attack helicopters like the AN-64 and so on. These are air platforms designed to strike on the ground.” – Kyrylo Budanov said in February 2013. He added: “It is intensification (that Ukraine needs). Because the armament is going on, but the pace and volume are not sufficient to turn the tide. As of now. That is, we need more.”

But he was not listened to, and National Security Advisor to the President of the United States Jake Sullivan said that “…The issue of sending combat aircraft to Kyiv is not a priority. At this stage, the ability to maneuver on the ground is a critical element. This means tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles.”.

And then the Armed Forces of Ukraine ran into well-prepared Russian defenses and faced enemy air superiority in the counteroffensive…

However, all this would not have had such a critical impact if it had not fallen on the ground prepared by Russian propaganda. Think back to the narratives I cited above. Remember the political conflicts that began in March 2023. While those at the top were “sharing the skin of the unkilled Russian bear” and competing for bizarre political and financial prospects, the average Ukrainian was divided into several camps:

  1. Several hundred thousand soldiers at the front who have been fighting for more than a year, who have lost a lot of friends and comrades, health and strength, and who are launching a counteroffensive, and thus the number of casualties is growing. Moreover, let’s not forget that the Russian defense was better than anyone expected, and we did not receive F-16s.
  2. A huge number of wounded soldiers, as well as those who traveled to peaceful cities for a week and saw a relaxed society watching the war as a national team football match. With beer and nuts. Those at the front instantly learned all this from those they trust the most – their comrades.
  3. Politicians, the political community, authorities at all levels, and those who want to become them. Even those who had always prioritized victory began to add political interest to their plans and communications. Hence, the intensification of all possible conflicts and sh@t. Hence, the dumping of dirt and paid media campaigns. And even when it was finally clear that there would be no elections in 2023 and even in the first half of 2024 due to the ongoing hostilities, the campaigns did not stop. In particular, some parties have already recruited staff for their party headquarters, and their leaders did not want to lose income, which is always measured in quite substantial amounts.
  4. The population is hostile to Ukraine, and they don’t hide it very well. Who are guiding missiles and helping Russia win in every way possible. They are actively involved in any activity that harms Ukraine. Including the one I am researching.
  5. Former “vatniks” who were really mistaken and believed in the “ruzkyi mir”, but the missile strikes left a void in their minds. And who have not yet been “taken under the wing” by anyone. In other words, politically, they are a blank slate on which you can write either “Glory to Ukraine” or “everything is going according to plan, it’s all the Freemasons/NATO’s fault.”
  6. The apolitical population of Ukraine, which always constitutes an absolute majority and which at critical moments in history takes a primarily passive stance, not being hostile to the state. Here I can recall the memories of my great-grandfather, who explained why, in his opinion, Ukraine lost the liberation struggle in 1917-1921: “For the first time, Ukrainians have received full use of land, everyone is tired of fighting and war, they believe that there will be no catastrophe and they can finally earn money.” Having failed to properly support the UPR government, all of them ended up either in camps or killed.
    It is the same now – they are not enemies of Ukraine. All these men who are hiding from TCC employees or fleeing abroad are primarily victims of Russian influence and the result of a failure of communication from the authorities.

However, we are now seeing how the narratives and practices of Russian propaganda mentioned above, which waited for their “time” and the stratification of Ukrainian society, are beginning to work in favor of the enemy. Over the past few months, I have been reading and hearing from opinion leaders completely opposite theses, and yesterday I read two incompatible positions in a post by a respected person “only motivated fighters are needed at the front” , “the current mobilized have been sacrificed and written off” . These positions are incompatible (and they should be) because in order to get motivated fighters to come to the front, it is not enough to write about it or to take a man off the street who does not want to go to the front. Moreover, these positions are becoming incompatible due to failed campaigns such as “courage overcomes fear.”

But we will talk about mobilization below, because it is not the main problem now. In addition to human resources, we need financial resources to supply the army and weapons. We shouldn’t talk about what has already been done in Ukraine in public, letting our enemies read how everything has failed. But objectively, given the intensity of hostilities and in order to maintain pressure on the enemy, we need to maintain the same volume of arms supplies. And they will continue to decrease, both due to objective factors and political developments in the allied countries.

The only truly uncompromising leader of NATO countries, Boris Johnson, is no longer in power. And, similarly, the Conservative Party will soon lose power in Britain. And Labor, at least some of its leaders, are publicly opposed to supporting Ukraine. In the United States, it is also very likely that Donald Trump will be the next president, and although the political system in the United States has many levers of restraint that level the level of presidential power of an individual president, the problem is primarily with Americans, who are also largely victims of the same technology of division and creation of a split line. And a significant part of American society does not see anything wrong with Russia’s war against Ukraine, associating our country with what they categorically reject in their own country. Hence the constant attempts to demand an end to support for Ukraine, with such theoretically incompatible parties as libertarians, communists, racists, anti-fascists, etc. uniting in public calls for this. Hence the retweets of Elon Musk’s call to stop aid to Ukraine due to “human rights violations during mobilization.”

Returning to Ukraine, I would like to emphasize that justice does not always go hand in hand with expediency and a winning strategy. I would also like to remind you that a real minority of Ukrainians participated in the Revolution of Dignity. For example, at critical moments, thirty thousand people gathered on the Maidan at best, despite the fact that Kyiv is home to more than three million people. At the same time, a hundred thousand people could come to the Sunday Vichs, and at the maximum, perhaps a million did. It was the same with support – a lot of people limited themselves to monetary or material support. But they did not submit to batons, let alone Berkut bullets.

I think that this proportion is quite relevant for those who have already joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine or are ready to do so as soon as they receive a call (they have already gone to the military commissariat several times and are waiting for a call). In order to increase this number without significantly losing quality, it is necessary to ensure that the spread of discussions in the media about the injustice of the current situation does not harm the mobilization. To avoid conflicts between the above-mentioned groups of Ukrainians. However, it was necessary to make a full rotation quickly enough to send motivated fighters to the front.

This is a challenge primarily for the new Minister of Defense, and I sincerely hope that he will succeed. And this blog is here to help, among other things.

In my opinion, to remedy the situation, we need a consistent set of the following steps:

  1. Strengthen the work of counterintelligence, and if they can’t pull it off, replace the weak links. Although, in my opinion, they primarily lack a legislative apparatus. Already formed and operating networks of Russian agents must be eliminated. And here, members of the sharia party, the opposition party, priests of the Russian Orthodox Church, members of all these sects where Russia was actively working, have not disappeared. It is very beneficial to the enemy that we talk about humanism and democracy in relation to them, but just think of the photos of all these correctors who are guiding missiles that kill civilians. Maybe humanity is precisely about depriving the enemy of such helpers? Especially since the leading country of Western democracy took quite radical steps during the mortal danger of World War II.
  2. Society, the whole country, must return to this state of feeling of mortal danger. It is impossible to combine cities that live their own lives with total mobilization, which cannot be avoided. Lavender lattes really need to be abandoned, but this should be a common position of all opinion leaders.
    Since Russia is ready for a long war of attrition, we have to make this war more intense, with greater involvement of citizens. Moreover, in a month, we are likely to return to a state where the enemy will strike almost every day to destroy infrastructure facilities. And, of course, it will be partially successful.
  3. We need to stop this strange “national masochism” of savoring corruption and betrayal. Sad to say, we have no other choice but to trust those who are currently running the country. There are no democratic mechanisms to change the government now. Elections before victory are impossible, and without victory, there will be no elections at all. Therefore, pulling out all the old fakaps and betrayals from the drawers should be stopped. Like media attacks, it is a systematic repetition of the same messages.
    All of this affects Ukrainian society, but first and foremost, it affects our allies. Sooner or later, they may use “corruption” to significantly reduce our aid.
  4. Unity. This is the main thing. Destroy fault lines wherever possible. For all the things I mentioned and more.

Above, I quoted the head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine directly, which shows that the intelligence service, and therefore the entire military and political leadership of Ukraine, knew that the Russians were ready for our counteroffensive and what the Armed Forces needed to achieve decisive success. We didn’t get it, and it can’t be changed. Namely, the spring and summer of 2023 were the perfect time to inflict a series of defeats on the enemy, after its failed winter campaign, to cause destructive processes inside.

This example shows very well that it is intense fighting that gives Ukraine a chance. Not an evolutionary build-up of the army’s capabilities, but a radical one. Crossing all of Putin’s “red lines” at the same time. Strikes on the Kremlin and the “Crimean Bridge”. A parity war using noble methods is impossible, we are physically smaller and have fewer resources.

We have to win in terms of information, not follow Russian narratives. Moreover, we shouldn’t reinforce the split lines ourselves, because sometimes it feels like strategic communications in the country have been taken over by Anatoly Grytsenko’s technologists since 2019, they are so bad.

Finally, I want to say something trite:

  1. You need to see the disease.
  2. We need to treat the cause, not the effects.
  3. Prevention is a better option than surgery.

This applies to communications and strategic planning.

Our team is working on this as well.

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