In Kyiv have joined efforts to counter Russian propaganda25.01.2020
On January 23, 2020, the “Western Front of the Information War” took place at the “Ukrinform” news agency. The event was organized by the non-governmental organization International center for countering Russian propaganda (ICCRP), which is headed by a former strategic communications officer of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Yurii Kochevenko. The Center’s team is comprised of former Ukrainian AFS officers, combatants, volunteers, specialists in diplomatic, communications, psychology, sociology and cybersecurity, who have combined their knowledge and experience to counteract destructive information influences.
Director of ICCRP Yurii Kochevenko opened the round table. He noted that Russian propaganda is affecting the change of public sentiment and, consequently, the change of policy of these countries towards Ukraine and stressed that it is a matter of national security.
“We hold that this issue is extremely acute for our society and we aimed to support the state and put a shoulder in solving these difficult issues. Our goal is to form a unified European information front to counter Russian aggression. We want to join efforts with those countries that, like us, suffer from information aggression of the Russian Federation. Therefore, I am particularly glad to welcome officials of diplomatic institutions represented in Ukraine here,” Yuri Kochevenko said.
In his speech, the director of the International center for countering Russian propaganda presented an analytical report on the “Kremlin’s propaganda outlet in Europe”, which was published on ICCRP’s website, on “Waves” and other resources. According to Kochevenko, the information war is not just Russian talk-shows and fake news. To manipulate public consciousness, the Kremlin also uses thought leaders who carry narratives and messages of Russian propaganda that contradict the national interests of their countries and reinforce Russia’s aggressive intentions. Yuri Kochevenko noted that Russian propaganda messages in Europe also spread natural European institutions, including not only the marginalized-radical, like the “Right Phalanx” in Poland, but also quite respectable, such as the Association of Bavaria Entrepreneurs. All of them carry the same narratives – that in Ukraine there is a civil war, from which the Ukrainians are already tired, and therefore it must be ended on any conditions.
“The Russian goals in Europe regarding Ukraine are first and foremost related to the discrediting of our country as a state. It is also creating in Europe such an information pressure on us to effort Ukraine to accept agreements that are directly contrary to our national interests. It is worth saying why this is happening. European countries are democratic, so voters form the elite and their power. And it is very important what these voters think. Public opinion shapes politics in one way or another,” Yuri Kochevenko emphasized.
The ICCRP Director presented the results of an analysis carried out by the Center’s EUvsDisinformation information partners (a project of the European External Action Service’s East StratCom Task Force). According to a study, since 2015, 6000 Russian fakes about Ukraine have been distributed in the European media.
“These are 6000 unique messages, each unit is content, not number of distributions,” Kochevenko stressed.
According to him, the concepts of “civil war” and “failed state” were prevalent among the key phrases used in the propaganda content. Kochevenko stressed that one of the consequences of such manipulation of public opinion was a screaming situation with former NGU soldier Vitaly Markiv.
“Vitaliy Markov was sentenced to 24 years in Italy for allegedly killing an Italian journalist in Donbass. In fact, a precedent was created when a defender of Ukraine in another country was convicted of defending Ukraine. It was made as a result of the successful information operation of the Russian special services. In particular, NYT journalists conducted an in-depth investigation into this situation, which indicated that it was Russian propaganda that created the conditions under which it became possible,” the ICCPR director said.
Among other consequences of Russian information aggression, Yurii Kochevenko called the return of the Russian delegation to the PACE, the construction of the Nord Stream-2, as well as the latest news that the Ukrainian Trizub was included in the list of symbols mentioned in the British manual-guide against extremism, published by the police for teachers and doctors.
“How should Ukraine respond to these challenges? Should we act symmetrically or asymmetrically, what do we have the resource for and what we do not have? Do we have any chance of defeating the Russians on the Western information front, how we need to act, whether we need to create TV channels or go the other way? Do we need a single focal point, a body to direct our actions, or do we need to limit ourselves to analyzing and researching what Russia is doing in the countries of Eastern and Western Europe? “- ICCPR Director Yuri Kochevenko addressed to the audience with such questions.
Mykyta Poturaev: “There is a systematic discrediting of Ukraine, the Armed Forces, veterans and volunteers in Europe”
The first discussion of the problem began with the Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy, MP Mikita Poturaev. He noted that he considered the ICCPR initiative to be very timely, important and useful for Ukraine, as the current situation is of great concern.
“In fact, the situation with Vitaly Markiv is not a solitary one. We remember the detention of other Ukrainian servicemen and volunteers. Fortunately, in the overwhelming majority, the case with Markiv is negatively unique. Unfortunately, there is a very difficult situation there, but it testifies to systematic work. It can be used as an example of what happens when there is systematic work in the countries of Western Europe to discredit Ukraine, to discredit veterans, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, volunteer units, the veteran movement. What is happening where political forces are winning over the flags of not just cooperation, but friendship with Russia – this is an absolutely demonstrating story. And if we do not systematically counter this, then we will be constantly in danger,”- said Nikita Poturaev.
The deputy also noted that Ukraine does not have, and in the near future will not have, the billions of dollars that the Russian Federation spends to promote its propaganda messages, directed not only against our country, but in general, for the destabilization of the post-war world order. The deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy drew attention to recent initiatives in Russia, among which the most dangerous is the rejection of the rule of international law in Russia.
“Returning to the initiative we are discussing right now: I am convinced that in public-state cooperation we can fight Russian propaganda in Europe. We must not only focus on the losses and dangers that Ukraine has. I am convinced that we must also promote the ideas of the general dangers of Russian policy for European democracy, the EU, and not only for Europe, but in general, for the entire commonwealth of democratic countries around the world. Because no country is now safe from Russian information attacks, provocations, subversion. None, from the United States to every European country… In this case, I am not optimistic about the issues we are currently discussing. But I think that we have to fight, for the most part we already know in which direction we should go and we should do it, ”- said Nikita Potura
Dmytro Gromakov: “We have to find partners and form coordination structures”
Yuriy Kochevenko addressed Dmitry Gromakov, the head of RAND research projects, with the question: “I know that you are a person close to the negotiation processes, you often visit Minsk as an expert involved in certain processes related to TGG. In your opinion, to what extent do Russian propaganda actions in Europe influence the behavior of our Western partners, in particular in Minsk? How much does it affect the ongoing peace process? “
Answering this question, Dmitry Gromakov noted that Russian propaganda, which exists around the peaceful settlement, conceals the essence of the events. Therefore, access to real information is shared by individual politicians in the West, while virtually everyone has access to fake and background information. Because of this, political expediency overcomes the truth, and Ukraine, as the most controlled element, gets pressure from Western partners.
“Information support for these processes has long been a cornerstone of the organization of negotiations. And this is confirmed by the recent events that regularly took place after the Minsk meetings and Normandy format meetings, when Russia insists on a closed regime, and then breaks the regime itself in order to create the necessary context, an informational background, to advance its narratives. Our position has always been and remains clear: we must have our own information support, and develop our own rules of the negotiation process, make it more open, more explicit in terms of Ukraine’s position. That is, if you have already agreed, society should know what you have agreed on. As soon as the government or responsible officials start playing this secret game, they start pouring water on a mill of fakes that can be created by Russian propaganda tools in the West,” Dmitry Gromakov said.
The head of research projects of the RAND Center stressed that Russian propaganda is not just fake. It also covers the creation of agents of influence, from understanding how the information verification system works in the Western media.
“As a result, we did not get the picture we needed for Ukraine in the negotiation process, and of course, the information background was not entirely correct. That is why, from the point of view of counteraction, we need a more open negotiation process, which is spoken of by the entire expert community, who is already tired or guessing or getting some negative consequences of the agreements when thrown by Russian propaganda. As a result, we cannot prepare our own society for what we are going to, we cannot explain to people what it will lead to. All this creates a nervous and quite tense social background, which reflects negatively both on the fall of the ratings of the authorities and on the credibility of the authorities, which in the end reduces our mobilization potential for counteracting any other forms of aggression,” Dmytro Gromakov emphasized.
He also noted that there is a problem because Western media and experts are not as popular in Ukraine as our information request requires. Often, Ukrainian publications do not have their own corporations or resources abroad to give the public an objective picture of what is really happening in the West. Because of this, Ukrainians use Russian translations of publications that do not always translate correctly from Western experts, or generally say words from non-existent experts.
“The amount of false information in the western direction is increasing by several times. Therefore, we should at least look for partner organizations and start forming some coordination structures that would allow us to verify information, enter the information space of Western countries with our expert opinion, and at the same time, consume more credible information from the West, ”Dmitry Gromakov summed up.
Dmytro Zolotukhin: «Nobody supports us in Europe now»
Director of the International Center for Countering Russian Propaganda (ICCRP) Yuri Kochevenko asked to tell the former Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine Dmitry Zolotukhin about real information operations in which the Ukrainian side could effectively counteract in cooperation with allies.
As an example, the former Deputy Minister of Information Policy cited the story of an Austrian journalist, Christian Vershutz, who, while visiting the occupied territory, interviewed the leaders of pro-Russian terrorists and who stated later in Vienna that he had been threatened by Ukrainian nationalists. According to Zolotukhin, the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria and the representatives of the Verkhovna Rada worked well together and made a number of tough statements.
Another example cited by the former Deputy Minister of Information Policy concerns an interview with the head of so-called «separate areas of Donetsk region» Denis Pushilin, published by the Polish site Onet.pl. The purpose of this interview was to legalize criminal groups in EU countries. At that time, the Ukrainian side also made several official statements, after which the editorial board of the Polish site removed the interview.
Dmitry Zolotukhin emphasized that activity on the promotion of Russian narratives is still going on. In particular, Bundestag MP Ulrich Yome recently visited Donetsk and spoke about the need to invite representatives of the occupation administrations of Donetsk and Lugansk to international venues in Europe in order to promote peace.
The former Deputy Minister also reminded about Viktor Medvedchuk and his international interfactional union. Members of the Ukrainian, Russian, German and French Parliaments should join the union to create an alternative for the executive to discuss the Normandy process and coordinate peace-building efforts.
Zolotukhin recalled that Medvedchuk had already met with the Chairman of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin, who supported him. The expert also suggested that Members of European Parliament would soon join the process, including from the German AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), the French Front National, the Italian «League of the North» and other political organizations in Europe.
«So I think we need to come to terms with the trend of spreading beliefs in the restoration of peace. We need to stop fighting and arguing with this, and therefore – to contradict the President of Ukraine, who says, that we are trying to make peace, while we declare that we are fighting against Russia. No one in Europe now supports us in this pursuit … So we need to go into the so-called guerrilla regime in the information war, and to say that there are corrupt politicians in the Bundestag, there are corrupt politicians in the French lower house of parliament … Trend «business as usual» increased (and went to the pre-war capacity), and we just need to take this into account, to work further in view of reformatting our efforts, without fighting against the mills and not standing against the wind», – said Zolotukhin.
Lyudmila Dolgonovskaya: «”Nord Stream-2″ is actually a transit not of gas, but of corruption to Europe»
Yuri Kochevenko called the statement of the former Deputy Minister of Information Policy «a realistic and sober approach», but noted that in Western countries public opinion still matters, which is why the Russians make so much effort to influence it. Director of the International Center for Countering Russian Propaganda (ICCRP) addressed Former Head of Strategic Communications Department of Lugansk Regional Military-Civil Administration in 2016-2018, co-founder of ANTS NGO Ludmila Dolgonovskaya:
«Ms. Ludmilo, you have considerable experience in communications. When you headed the Strategic Communications Department of the Lugansk Civil-Military Administration, many friends from abroad came to visit you, and in your work with Anna Gopko you communicated a lot with the European parliamentarians. How do you feel on which agenda are the European elites? On ours, on Russia or on some other? And do we have a chance for current events to be on our agenda? »
Lyudmila Dolgonovskaya noted that each state acts in accordance with its own interests. Therefore, it is necessary to bring European diplomats and journalists to the East of Ukraine more often, and to remind them that the war is going on so that this issue does not leave their agenda. Co-founder of ANTS NGO stressed that sanctions against Russia are an effective mechanism, but rather prolonged, and Ukraine does not have enough time to restrain Russian aggression and not see adequate response of Western partners to the challenge to the world order system, that was initiated by the Russian Federation invasion in Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.
«This is a real challenge to the whole international security system and international law, and the response of the world should be stronger. Meanwhile, we see North Stream-2, which is nothing more than a transit of corruption but not of gas to Europe. And that warming in the relations between Paris and Moscow really does not bode well for us, because Ukraine in the Normandy format risks being left alone against three, and we also need to work with that», – Lyudmila Dolgonovska emphasized.
According to Ms. Lyudmila, Ukraine should strengthen its coalition with the Baltic states and Poland, which are also aware of the dangers of the Russian neighborhood. She emphasized the intensification of political and diplomatic efforts, both by the Foreign Ministry and Ukrainian missions abroad, as well as by measures of parliamentary diplomacy. Also, the co-founder of ANTS NGO reminded of the possibilities of cultural diplomacy as an important mechanism for counteracting information aggression of the Russian Federation.
«Often, the emotional component involved in propaganda can have an effective influence through art, which is also empathetic», – said Ludmila Dolgonovskaya.
In addition, Ms. Lyudmila recalled the potential of the Ukrainian diaspora, which is currently underestimated. According to her, there are about 20 million Ukrainians living abroad, with whom it is necessary to strengthen cooperation in the interests of our country.
«And of course, this is an increase of Ukraine’s information presence abroad. And here is my subjective opinion that we do not use the richest treasure we have. We live among the living heroes – participants and veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war. And these people, films about them, books about them, performances, should be shown more often abroad and we should also carry out various events. Because these are our heroes, and Ukraine is an outpost of the defense of European civilization… There must be our counter-narrative, which is that Ukraine was, is, and will be! It is a state with a millennial history, a state with a nation that pays in blood for the right to exist. It is a state with great potential and enormous resources, including human resources. And it is necessary to emphasize this and actively promote such narratives in the Western agenda», – Lyudmila Dolgonovska summed up her speech.
Dmytro Levus: “Can’t agree to cancel foreign language”
The following question was asked by Yuri Kochevenko to the Director of the Center «Ukrainian Meridian» Dmitry Levus: «I know that you are already doing some practical work, including your radio projects, so the question is how much do you think the presence in this process of public structures and state should be balanced? What should the state do and what should the public do? Where should they act together and where separately? And in general, to what extent should public institutions be active in this process, or may they not be needed at all, only the state should do this? »
Responding to a question from the ICCRP Director, Dmitry Levus mentioned the public initiative «Amber Road», which he co-founded, and initiated a round table «Reintegration of Donbass: A European View» with the participation of the ambassadors of the Baltic states and Poland which took place in Kramatorsk.
«The public can do such things at the intersection with official diplomacy. It is clear that state institutions, state bodies are not always able, or simply because of the logic of existence, or because of diplomacy, to do such things – to initiate something similar, as we did this time», – said Dmitry Levus.
The director of the Center «Ukrainian Meridian» also mentioned the author’s (together with Oleg Lisny) Russian-language program «Glitter and Poverty of the Russian World», which is aimed at the occupied territories, and partly – at the Russian Federation. He cited it as an example that Ukraine not only can, but also should, influence the Russian-speaking population in order to advance its own agenda.
«We should not be defensive, as is always the case. We must believe and have the courage to attack. Ms. Lyudmila correctly said about the diaspora, but apart from the diaspora, there is this array of Russian-speaking population that you also need to work with. And under any circumstances we are able to influence it. Moreover, we also have allies here – the authorities of the Baltic states…
I agree with Ms Ludmila about what the external pressure is. It consists of expert communication, parliamentary diplomacy, official diplomacy, and direct information influence abroad – what is called “foreign language”. And here we cannot agree with what has happened with this foreign language … This is the basis when there will be at least some primitive knowledge in the general public in the West, in Europe, in the Baltic countries. Even after that, both expert diplomacy and the expert environment can work there, and it will be much easier to work because a certain Ukrainian perspective will be formed. When there is no foreign language, then what can be said?” Dmitry Levus asked a rhetorical question.
The co-founder of the governmental organization “Amber Way” also emphasized that Ukraine should transmit information actions in the enemy’s territory and gave an example of Resolution 10125 adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the VIII convocation. These are the “Address of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to the United Nations Organisation, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, national parliaments of the states of the world on condemnation of of violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation.”
“Who can even remember that such a tough resolution was adopted? In principle, it is logical that the parliamentary diplomacy of Ukraine, working with its colleagues in the framework of inter-parliamentary dialogue, emphasized the support of this resolution and the adoption of similar resolutions by national parliaments… This wave can be supported even now, because the resolution has not gone anywhere and there is an appeal. Moreover, this is a painful question for Russia… To sum up, what really matters to us now is the concerted work in the information field, such as the formation of military operations from several “branches”: this is parliamentary diplomacy, expert diplomacy, and the creation of a certain information field, because the abolition of foreign language is not true. Well, the courage and the transfer of warfare to hostile information territory. And there are allies, they really are, and we can continue to work with them. Europe is not a single unit, there is someone to rely on”, – Dmitry Levus concluded his speech.
Experts’ opinions on the expediency of a Centers’ for Countering Russian Propaganda establishment
The second part of the “Western Front of the Information War” roundtable was devoted to the discussion of the expediency of setting up an ICCRP NGO. Opinions were divided, experts argued “for” and “against”.
The head of the Center, Yurii Kochevenko, started the discussion, addressing everyone present.
He noted that NATO’s doctrinal documents had already documented the emergence of a new space of warfare: an information space was added to the land, sea and air, requiring new forces and means, new doctrines and strategies. Also, the Russian Defense Minister declared that there were information troops in the Russian Federation Armed Forces in 2016.
“And developing this analogy, there is there army, artillery, aviation, means of mass destruction, special operation forces in this space, which operate selectively, but in that case there must be a General Staff that will effectively coordinate these actions. I would like to point out that in the whole five years we have obtained a large number of specialists, experiences, cases, and now many are working – someone denies fakes, someone does analytics, someone tries to influence directly but there is no single center to coordinate these efforts. Because in Russia it does exist. And her actions are effective as they are managed, and they can overcome all cases connected with information. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the Ministry of Information Policy, for various objective and subjective reasons, could not become such a focal point, it failed to bring together all forces that are in the Armed Forces, in special forces, in public structures. And I have a question:” How much is such a center needed? How does it have to be organized to become effective?”
Director of the Center “Ukrainian Meridian” and co-founder of “Amber Road” Dmytro Levus expressed some caution about the creation of the Center.
According to him, namely the presence of several centers of information counteraction in 2014 added stability to Ukraine and secured the country, because the Russians did not understand this model of cooperation. Ex-Deputy Minister of Information Policy Dmitry Zolotukhin gave an example of the work of the NSDC Information and Analytical Center and the government’s communication platform “Single voice”. According to him, both of these structures were not institutionalized. “At the moment, I do not think it is possible to create such a center,” Dmitry Zolotukhin concluded.
The head of research projects of the “RAND” Center Dmitry Gromakov disagreed with his colleagues. He noted that it was not about the administration, but about the coordination of the process. According to Gromakov, the Center is needed to develop narratives that should be broadcast in all directions, to coordinate the resources of all other centers, and to determine priorities for today. This, according to the expert, will allow to reach a larger audience and clearly convey the main idea.
“That’s why the concept of Coordinating Center is used. Also, we should not forget that we are not alone in this war, and in the West there are institutions that deal with it, the same community centers that we can use as a resource, and we can act as a resource for their activities. In addition, coordination allows the proper allocation and accounting of these resources, so I believe that the Center should exist”, – summed up Dmitry Gromakov.
Lyudmila Dolgonovskaya, co-founder of the governmental organization “ANTS”, also spoke in favor of a single Center. She gave as an example her experience of being a Head of the Office of the Strategic Communications of the Luhansk Regional Militaryand Civil Administration in 2016-2018. According to Ms. Ludmila, there are always several centers of official information. At the regional level, this is the Security Service of Ukraine and the National Police Governance, district state administrations, local governments etc.
«Should this information be planned? I think so! Should it be coordinated? Yes! Should we reinforce each other, because everyone has his own audience? Undoubtedly yes! All this indicates that really, we need maybe deinstitutionalized centers, to conduct the planned information policy”, – Lyudmila Dolgonovskaya noted.
Diplomat Vadim Trukhan, who also agreed with the activities of the Center participated in the discussion.
“I think that the answer to the question whether such a Center is needed is definitely positive. Because almost six years of war, unfortunately, our state hasn’t managed to coordinate the efforts of public figures, governmental bodies and experts in countering Russian propaganda. This beast, created on the basis of several ministries headed by Mr Borodyansky, has the same position that earlier did the Ministry of Information (Ministry of Information Policy) – in order to distance itself better, you should do nothing. So, take it, Mr. Yuri. For example, I will be pleased to participate in activities that you will lead, the analysis, the development of narratives that need to be dispersed, and more. I think that we unfairly gave up in this situation and lost almost six years of war”, – Vadim Trukhan said.
After the discussion was over, Yuri Kochevenko, director of the International Center for Countering Russian Aggression, thanked all participants of the “Western Front of the Information War” roundtable and invited them for further cooperation for the common purpose.