The Lack of Ethics in Ukraine’s Information Warfare

05.10.2023

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The goal of information warfare is not territorial conquest, but rather the direction of people, their thoughts, and values – regardless of where these people live. Therefore, it can be said that we are often engaged in everyday information warfare without even realizing it. For example, politicians frequently engage in public discourse to gain power. Yellow journalism produces sensational stories from large parties where alcohol and a more relaxed atmosphere tempt people to act inappropriately. The media landscape changes when an armed conflict is added to the equation. Even a hint of ethics disappears from the picture.

Media Manipulations in Ukraine

Most of us have probably encountered media monitoring in one way or another. Typically, it involves tracking the appearance of keywords of interest and assessing the surrounding context. During times of war, reports become more comprehensive, and the media landscape expands.

The Center for Countering Disinformation (CCD) in Ukraine provides a detailed weekly overview of the battleground of information warfare. Based on the reports from the last five weeks, it can be said that Russia’s activities in this field have generally intensified. Looking at the media landscape and the sequence of events, one can expect even greater activity in the future.

 

The main objectives of Russians in the information space continue to be:
1. Disrupting mobilization activities in Ukraine.
2. Discrediting Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
3. Ending assistance from partner countries.
In the context of Ukraine’s counterattack, it’s worth noting the successes of the Ukrainian armed forces in the east, the Black Sea region, and temporarily occupied Crimea. These achievements have made it challenging for Russian information sources to convey any information or conduct influence campaigns in these areas. However, a potential military agreement between North Korea and Russia is expected to lead to an increase in influence operations aimed at intimidating Ukrainian citizens to restore the offensive capabilities of the Russian occupation forces.

Russian main narratives towards the West are as follows:

1. The West is tired of Ukraine.
This narrative is popular in Germany (ZDF), the United Kingdom (Belfast Telegraph, The Times), and Turkey (Medya Günlüğü). Specifically, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and U.S. Senator James David Vance criticize the process of providing financial aid to Kyiv in their statements and call for an immediate end to support for Ukraine.

2. The West is betraying Ukraine.
This narrative is propagated in Argentina (Página 12), the United Kingdom (Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian), and within the information sphere of the United States (Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post). It alleges that an alleged divide among Republicans could lead to the cessation of support for Ukraine and the noticeable growth of an anti-Ukraine movement in Europe.

3. Ukraine is a puppet of the West.
This narrative is actively discussed in American (CBS), French (YouTube channel Vu du droit), and Swedish (SwebbTV) information environments. Belgian journalist Michel Collon, Swedish analyst Magnus Stenlund, U.S. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, and former CIA analyst Larry Johnson have claimed that the supposed “conflict in Ukraine” is, in reality, a U.S. war against Europe, characterized as a Western absurd approach to war and American support for an anti-Russia “buffer war” aimed at removing Putin and controlling Russia’s natural resources.

Misinformation and Leaks

In the past five weeks, 898 incidents of media manipulation and the dissemination of misinformation have been documented. The goal remains to mislead readers and strengthen Russia’s position in the armed conflict. It is noteworthy that as the number of incidents increases, the proportion of misinformation also grows. In quieter weeks, it’s around 2%, but during more intense periods, false information is spread in up to 6% of cases. During sharper periods, various types of information leaks are initiated, all aimed at sowing fear. In the current case, the leaks are related to possible agreements between Russia and North Korea. But what kind of falsehoods are being spread to us?

Week 33

MISINFORMATION: The Telegram channel “Ukraine.ru” is spreading false information claiming that the attack on the Chernihiv drama theatre is a provocation by Ukrainian authorities to blame Russia, and it is an act of sacrifice for Zelenskyy’s visit to Sweden. “We have repeatedly warned that a provocation is being prepared with the 404th attack on civilian institutions.”

MISINFORMATION: The Russian propaganda Telegram channel “Графиня☢️изменившимся лицомъ бѣжитъ пруду” (The Countess with a Changed Face Flees to the Pond) posted a fake video, which was edited from a mobilization-themed video posted on the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s YouTube channel. The post reads: “Khokhls are freaks. Only they can cultivate mourning in the masses to further increase death and grief.”

Week 34 

MISINFORMATION: The Telegram channel “Tsargrad TV” published a post:
“Ukraine’s losses are no longer a secret… Now, before watching videos there (when accessing from a Ukrainian address), targeted advertising is shown where the number of deceased soldiers is quite openly stated. ‘350,000 soldiers sacrificed themselves for us to remember’… By the way, the video was released by the United24 Foundation, positioned as a global initiative ‘in support of Ukraine.'”

Week 35

MISINFORMATION: Several Russian Telegram channels, including “Wagner,” have published information claiming that:
“Zelenskyy bought a $5 million villa on the Red Sea coast in Egypt in his mother-in-law’s name… The newspaper Punch reports this with reference to the investigation by Egyptian journalist Mohamed Al-Alawy. The author cites documents at his disposal confirming the purchase of the villa. The journalist believes that the villa was paid for with Western financial aid allocated to Ukraine.”

Week 36

The Telegram channel “Kotsnews” announced:
“Konstantinovka is a convenient tragedy for Kyiv.
Ukrainian media and popular blogs somehow shamelessly ignore the sound of the missile launch from Konstantinovka, as shown in Zelenskyy’s video. By the way, why does the president release the video from a market surveillance camera? Can’t be bothered to turn on the sound.
Yes, because immediately after its release, he has a joint press conference with the Danish Prime Minister, where Zelenskyy, of course, accuses Russia of terrorism. And then a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State. And they nod understandingly, pretending to believe. Again.
But the people? Who reads about those people? Especially those from Konstantinovka in Donbas.”

Week 37

MISINFORMATION: The Telegram channel “Colonelcassad” shared a video advertisement from the “1+1” television channel, stating that “Ukrainian environmentalists have proposed burying some deceased soldiers in special biodegradable bags.”
The video was accompanied by the following statement: “A proposal was made to bury future deceased Ukrainian armed forces to increase fertility in the fields by burying them in special bags. More corpses – more fertility in Ukraine. Maidan stood for this.
MISINFORMATION: The Telegram channel “RIA Novosti” posted:
“Ukrainian soldiers sent captured Russian soldiers into a minefield in a special operations area, said a source familiar with the situation to RIA Novosti and showed a video found on a Ukrainian trench phone.”

In conclusion, as we can see, no one is exempt from the content in terms of misinformation, whether it’s about ordinary citizens or key figures. The goal of these posts is to drive a wedge between the population and their leaders. It’s important to note that misinformation is primarily spread in closed social media groups and to access this information, you usually need to be a follower of the channel. In Ukraine, Telegram is widely used, and the opposing side cleverly exploits it. In Estonia, the most popular platforms are Facebook and VKontakte. Meta (formerly Facebook) puts in significant effort to control the content and accuracy of what is spread on Facebook, so it can be assumed that it’s more challenging to disseminate misinformation in our media space. However, we also know that the enemy is resourceful. Therefore, let’s remain vigilant and maintain a critical mindset when consuming media.

The used images are screenshots from the referenced web pages.