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IFANS Focus Information/Psychological Warfare in the Russia-Ukraine War: Overview and Implications SONG Tae Eun Upload Date 2022-05-31 Hits 743
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Ⅰ. Introduction
Ⅱ. The Russian Military’s Information/Psychological Warfare 
Ⅲ. The Ukrainian Military’s Information/Psychological Warfare
Ⅳ. Assessment and Policy Implications

Ⅰ. Introduction

The Russia-Ukraine war, which began with the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, is evolving into the most complex form of hybrid warfare. As the war drags on, information/psychological warfare, a non-armed military operation, is capturing attention. This type of warfare is a clear illustration of how the present-day state-of-the-art digital information technology could shape modern warfare.

Information/psychological warfare aims to tilt the war’s outcome in the favor of the attacker. It involves seeking information superiority, disrupting an opponent’s decision-making abilities, and thwarting an opponent’s willingness to fight and resist. Currently, both Russia and Ukraine are carrying out digital propaganda activities to secure political and military support from the international community by disseminating battlefield information and narratives favorable to them across cyberspace.

Information warfare (IW) is a strategy involving the use and management of information to pursue a competitive advantage, including offensive and defensive efforts. Information Operations (IO) is conducted in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries. 

Psychological Warfare (PSYWAR) refers to warfare involving the deliberate use of propaganda and psychological operations to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors of adversaries and their public. As it targets the thoughts and feelings of adversaries and their people, the key to winning psychological warfare is to forge an effective narrative that persuades the public to think and act as the way a message sender wants. Psychological operations (PSYOP) are the planned tactical use of propaganda to influence the thinking or behavior of an enemy. The purpose is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives.

Ⅱ. The Russian Military’s Information/Psychological Warfare 

Even before the war, Russia engaged in intelligence psychological warfare using the Federal Security Agency (FSB), Military Intelligence Agency (GRU), as well as state media outlets like Russia Today, Sputnik, and TASS to create justifications for its invasion of Ukraine and quell the resistance of Ukrainians. Private tech firms that signed contracts with the Russian government to spread disinformation have also played a part.

In the early stage of the war, Russia took advantage of the lack of information about the situation on the battlefield to give an impression that Russian forces are outmaneuvering the Ukrainian military and to demoralize the Ukrainian army. The Kremlin spread fake news such as “President Volodymyr Zelensky fled the country,” “Ukraine attacked Russia first,” and “Ukraine’s capital city fell.” As U.S. satellite images exposed detailed military movements by Russia, Russia amassed well over 130,000 troops near Ukraine’s border but denied planning to invade Ukraine. Russia also deployed fake weapons to conceal the size of its military assets and actual movements of heavy weapons. 

On February 3, 2022, the U.S. State Department announced that Russian intelligence was producing and distributing images of Russian-speaking Ukrainians being slaughtered by Ukrainian or NATO weapons to justify their invasion of Ukraine. These “false flag operations” are aimed at delaying the response from and decision-making of Ukraine and the West on the Russian invasion.

Russia justified the killing of and human rights abuses in Ukrainians by inciting hatred against Ukrainians and spreading conspiracy theories to defame the Ukrainian government; The Kremlin spread fabricated false story of the presence of neo-Nazis and Fascists in Ukraine as a pretext for war. On top of that, Russia has repeatedly used the same old psychological warfare tactics, like spreading the message that NATO’s eastward expansion is the main driver behind its invasion of Ukraine. But previous experiences dealing with Russia’s psychological warfare have helped the U.S. and NATO curb Russian narratives, and as a result, the Kremlin has failed to persuade the international community with its logic for the current crisis. 

Ⅲ. The Ukrainian Military’s Information/Psychological Warfare 

Even before the war began, the dissemination of Russia’s information/psychological warfare narratives has led some western observers to concur with the Russian view that NATO’s eastward expansion has provoked the country. Ukraine, on the other hand, came up with a different logic to persuade the West; it has framed the ongoing war as a battle between the bloc consisting of democratic countries and Vladimir Putin to plea for democratic nations’ solidarity. Ukraine is also sending the message that “The fall of Ukraine will put Europe’s security in peril” to seek military assistance from the West. On February 24, immediately after Russia’s invasion, Ukraine used social media to provide updates on the situation on the battlefield in detail and plea for the international community’s support. Through these efforts, Ukraine is effectively promoting its preferred narratives and messaging, and rallying public opinion across the world toward pressuring Russia. 

To be more specific, Ukraine has succeeded in undermining the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign and the credibility of its aggressive promotion of false narratives and spreading Russia’s lying image by promptly debunking Russia’s fabricated claims.

In particular, President Volodymyr Zelensky is making an unprecedented move as a country’s leader directly seeking military and diplomatic support from an international audience and governments on all continents by sharing developments in the Ukraine situation through his daily social media updates and addressing foreign Congresses virtually. President Zelensky’s graphic presentation with interspersed images of Kyiv and Ukraine’s top leadership standing defiantly against Russia’s overwhelming military might resonated deeply in the international community. Zelensky’s eloquence and storytelling skills honed from his on-screen background seem to be touching the hearts of various audiences with concise but powerful messages. 

In addition, the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine has been constantly releasing press briefings on the latest developments in the war, helped domestic and foreign media outlets gain access to the information of conflict zones, and assisted Ukrainian television and audio channels in broadcasting the developments and information on the unfolding crisis for the Ukrainian people and international observers from the Russian-occupied territory. On top of that, the Ukrainian people, who have unlimited access to the Internet, social media, and war-related information from internal and external sources unlike the Russian people, are fighting the information war on their fronts by posting the images and videos graphically depicting what’s unfolding in Ukraine real time on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, and Tiktok. It appears that these activities adding up to Big Data will likely play a critical role in holding Russia accountable for aggression and heinous war crimes as a member of the international community. 

Furthermore, the West’s backing played a significant role in Ukraine’s information/psychological warfare against Russia. The West amplified the persuasiveness of Kyiv’s narratives and helped Kyiv seize the upper hand in the information war against the Kremlin by steadily releasing sensitive details of the Russian military, Putin’s invasion plans, and the latest developments in the war. And in terms of technical aspects, Russia is in a disadvantageous position when it comes to spreading its narratives in information/psychological warfare as Western IT companies monopolize almost all the Internet and social media platforms. Meta and Google, which run social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, effectively stemmed the flow of Russian narratives in online spaces by blocking information from Russian state media such as RT, Sputnik, and TASS.

Ⅳ. Assessment and Policy Implications

It seems that the primary reason behind Ukraine’s effective defiance against the Kremlin’s formidable disinformation machine in information/psychological warfare is Kyiv’s persistent efforts to debunk false Kremlin narratives even before Russia’s invasion. Since early 2015, the Ukrainian government has established the media platforms such as Ukraine Today and StopFake targeted at an international audience for cross-checking sources of information and references. And the Ukrainian government has been breaking through the Kremlin’s propaganda bubble and false narratives by spreading Ukraine’s stance based on facts under the slogan of “The best propaganda is the truth.” Moreover, Ukraine was already cooperating with its Western allies during the pre-war period through various channels in response to Russian disinformation and psychological warfare.

It is important for the Korean government as information/psychological warfare in recent years can be frequently waged through disinformation activities even in peacetime, the Korean government needs to establish a “strategic communication” system to effectively respond to transnational, complex, and simultaneous crises such as cyberwarfare, disinformation campaign, refugee problems, and terrorism. In particular, it is urgent to establish a well-designed crisis response system with consideration that non-traditional security threats stemming from cyber warfare and information/psychological warfare could erupt into armed conflicts. And measures to improve domestic sensitivity and resilience should be prepared in case a new crisis emerges.

As the Russia-Ukraine war shows, forging cooperation with allies and partners in responding to threats and attacks in information/psychological warfare is critical to protecting and maintaining the government’s political legitimacy, authority, democratic system, and social order both in peacetime and wartime. In this regard, the Korean government needs to establish a framework for cooperation with allies and partners in applying advanced digital technologies such as AI to various crisis simulations, and facilitating strategic discussions and training to effectively survive through information/psychological warfare.

South Korea recently joined the Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) as the first non-NATO member and has become one of the five contributors to the CCDCOE along with Finland, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland. It is an opportune time for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Defense, and the National Intelligence Service to start full-fledged discussions on how to establish effective interagency coordination to develop information/psychological warfare capabilities that could be linked up with South Korea’s participation in relevant international cooperation. As part of the preparation for future information/psychological warfare, it is advised that the Korean government fast-track efforts at fostering technical and intra-agency capabilities to build and operate a monitoring system for the rapid and accurate detection of fake narratives about the country, and to stem the flow of disinformation through comprehensive responses. It is also important to orchestrate efforts to organize related research and institutes, and bring together experts working in related fields.

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#RussiaUkraineWar #Information #Psychology #Warfare #Disinformation #Zelenskyy
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