The sophistication of Ukrainian information operations and that of allies is stalling Russia’s invasion plans – in public discourse, financially and even militarily.

By Lamin Jaiteh

When senior military representatives from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), met in Oxford, England on 16-18 March 2022, they discussed ways to keep ahead of adversaries in complex future wars.

NATO’s first-ever Multi-Domain operations conference aimed to harness members’ capabilities to counter a common enemy.

Being integrated has never been so important to NATO in the wake of war on land in Europe for the first time in decades.

Watch: Multi-Domain Operation explained (Credit: MOD)

‘Information confrontation’

‘Information Confrontation’ (Informatsionnoe protivoborstvo – IPB) is a Russian term for conflict in the information domain.

Literature on IPb implies an effort to create confusion and sow doubt in the existence of truth.

Since the 24 February Russian invasion of Ukraine, the spectre of Moscow’s media meddling in pushing a false narrative, has escalated.

For example, the Kremlin describes the invasion as a “special operation” and bans Russian media outlets from using terms like ‘invasion’ and ‘war’ in reporting the conflict.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 21, 2022: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation on the recognition of independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (Source: Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS).

In fact, Moscow also uses disinformation to reinforce its narrative and tried to induce surrender of Ukrainians through doubt and fear.

For instance, rumors were spread by Russian state media that President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled the country, which Mr. Zelensky debunked with a social media video showing he was still in Kyiv.

Who controls the Narrative?

The Kremlin understands that controlling the narrative is the first step in controlling an entire population and toward winning a propaganda war.

But in an interview with Forces News, the next head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders said Russia’s attempts at propaganda are stalling.

“What we are seeing in the war is the power of information confrontation. The very sophisticated declassification of intelligence by the US and allies has made sure the truth has beaten the lie.”

General Sir Patrick Sanders.

However, associate professor of journalism at London Metropolitan University, Wendy Sloane maintains there are still people in Russia “who yearn for the old days of the Stalinist state,” and a lot of them do not question what their leaders tell them because they are used to not questioning them.”

Watch: Associate professor of Journalism, London Metropolitan University, Wendy Sloan
explains President Putin’s propaganda war in Ukraine (Credit: L. Jaiteh)
Listen: Ukrainian hacktivist talk about how they’re targeting Russian propaganda websites
in the ‘information confrontation’ war with Russia (Credit: L. Jaiteh)

Even before NATO allies begin to impose sanctions on Russia, the hacker group anonymous declared war on Russia.  Since then, Ukrainian IT experts such as Olek Anastas [not his real name], joined other ‘hacktivists’ to disrupt Russian websites in the propaganda war.

“Usually, we use DDoS attacks just to slow down Russian servers,” says Olek said. “When propaganda sites are not working, they can’t put false news into people’s minds,” he added.

Public Warfare on the information superhighway

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a defining geopolitical moment for some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Telegram and other social media platforms have turned into major battlefields for a parallel information war, and their data and services have become vital links in the conflict.

For instance, when Ukraine faced the threat of losing its internet service network, Ukraine Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted a direct plea to SpaceX founder Elon Musk for help.

Only hours later, he received confirmation from the tech billionaire that Starlink service was now active in Ukraine.

Source: Twitter

It is the first time in modern times that a private company is openly involved in supporting a side in a major war. A sign of future warfare. Perhaps.

Corporate Warfare

Since NATO Allies are unwilling to engage Russia militarily, they opted to use economic sanctions against Moscow.

Many saw this as a weak response by the NATO alliance. But it is not just governments handing down financial punishments.

A US chip maker Intel Corp  said on 5 April it has suspended business operations in Russia. Likewise, the family-owned Italian coffee maker Lavazza said it had decided to suspend all its activities in Russia and has also had to temporarily halt distribution in Ukraine.

Hearts and Minds

None of this would be possible if financial and communication systems weren’t digitally connected.

The history of conflict has always relied on winning the “Hearts and Minds” of the troops and the civilians whose support is needed to fund and carry the battle on to victory.

Without that emotional conviction, armies and people become demoralised and lose faith in the carnage associated with a war, even if victorious

However, the Russian War on Ukraine has turned the tables of history, because the sophistication of Ukrainian information operations and that of allies is making sure that they are fundamentally stalling Russia’s plan of a quick victory in Ukraine.

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