Ukraine: The Power of Information in War
Updated: Mar 22, 2022
The Russian armed forces are making steady progress on the battlefield in Ukraine. The four pronged offensive along the axes – Kiev in the North, Kharkiv in the North East, Donbass in the East and Kherson in the South is no doubt facing heavy resistance but is advancing in the various operational objectives.
A look at a the situation map by the Institute for the Study of War and American Enterprises Institute Critical Threats Project of 08 March will show the gains made by Russia. Ironically the map is based on the Facebook page of the Ukrainian forces which has provided the information.
Much of the resistance is the Russians own doing – lack of planning, logistics issues and entanglements in urban terrain. However steady achievement of intermediate objectives is evident.
Don’t blame yourself however if you are not getting the narrative right for Ukraine is controlling the flow of information while there is limited news of gains or otherwisde made by Russia.
Building Narrative of Resistance
Ukraine has been able to build a number of sub plots in the narrative of resistance from casualties inflicted on the Russian military be it tanks, artillery or personnel to offensive troops in the front line scavenging for food.
We know two major generals – two star officers of the Russian army have been killed in action including their names. Two star rank officers are generally not supposed to be in the front line, but the fact that they are leading is demonstrated as success of Ukraine resistance in targeting high ranking officers,
The Russians are no doubt suffering heavy casualties, this does show that the opposition is stiff and the fact that the offensive was believed to be a cake walk attenuates the losses, but so is the Ukrainian storyline.
The Russians are also using artillery and missiles to target civilian areas we are told and war crimes are being recorded.
On the Ukraine side we hear of mass evacuation of cities for fear of casualties, this is a human tragedy, which cannot be condoned and is the reality.
Information Control From the Top
The Ukraine war may be the first time when national leadership has used information to arouse a nation to resistance.
The information “battlefield,” is strategic led by the President himself. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who some berate as a comedian of the past has proved himself very effective to rally the nation exploiting emotion of high resentment against Russia in the people at large.
Daily videos uploaded on his Facebook page are visible to the masses and are widely circulated. He appeared in his office in the Presidential palace to show that he was not quitting.
Addressing the British Parliament he recalled famous words of resistance by Winston Churchill after the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, President Zelenskyy repeated, “We will fight until the end, at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. "We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets."
He appears in Kyiv the capital with the cabinet expressing the resolve of resistance demonstrating physical courage and beating the impression that he has run away from the Capital.
Jason Criss Howk, writes how the Ukraine President has placed the information campaign on a top priority and thus has been able to build up a vast network of support against the Russian invasion.
Not just the President but others in the ministry and the public at large have been able to build the narrative of resistance.
“It is high time to proceed to resistance!” said defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov in a March 2 Facebook post. “I appeal to the citizens who are in the territories temporarily occupied by the enemy. With your help, our army will quickly defeat and drive out the occupiers.”
Videos of public resistance such as the one from Kherson is also dominating the media including social media, thus creating parallel narratives of public heroism on multiple platforms.
Sharing Operational Information
Ukrainian flow of information has been steady with daily briefs provided across a wide spectrum to the media and informed sources through Facebook pages, Telegram and What’s App.
These give a detail of the events and also provide the number of Russian casualties. Clearly the Ukrainian losses are not mentioned, thus creating the impression of heavy losses to the Russian Army.
Using multiple channels, the, “Victim’s Approach” is being used to gain sympathy and the moral superiority against the Russians is also working well for Ukraine in the information sphere.
Thus large number of volunteers including one from India’s Tamil Nadu state has expressed willingness to join the war on Ukraine’s side.
Indian media reports highlight two Indian Navy veterans lining up before the Ukrainian Defence Attache in New Delhi for a visa though this could not be independently verified.
David Kaye, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression is quoted in the Defense One as to how the Ukrainian effort is leading to swerving of diplomatic opinion in favour of the country in UN bodies including the United Nations General Assembly. Kaye is quoted as saying, “Simply the…very images that we're getting from Ukraine, the…social media and communications effort that [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy has been undertaking, I think all of those things kind of play into making it easier for diplomats to isolate Russia.”
With blocking of channels such as Sputnik and RT, Russian ability to promote the narrative world wide has been greatly hampered.
A large band of cyber “warriors,” as The Hacktivist collective Anonymous are targeting Russians, with some mercenaries also in tow.
Russian Information Deficit
Russian President Vladimir Putin is being portrayed as a war criminal – part of the narrative is spun by the United States no doubt but imaging is building a fierce resentment within Ukraine.
The image of the Russian President isolated on the long table sitting across “obedient,” officials is adding to the sense of aloofness of the Russian leader contrasting with open accessibility of Ukraine’s President through widespread messaging.
Russian information campaign is virtually non-existent.
It is reported that Russian Education Ministry has been directed to launch a campaign for explaining to the public the reason for the Ukraine War after protests had broken out in multiple cities in Russia including the capital Moscow.
But influence operations to justify the so called, “Special Military Operation,” in Ukraine are absent because of which the Ukrainian story is prevailing.
Russia which has been castigated by the United States for influence operations during the U.S. presidential elections has no narrative to spin on the Ukraine front which has surprised many observers.
No doubt use of information by Ukraine to bolster resistance to the Russian invasion has been a success story so far. This has undermined and humiliated Russia internationally in the United Nations and beyond. Resistance at home is greatly bolstered physically.
The success is also due to the moral superiority of Ukraine as a victim of Russian aggression while bankruptcy of Russian ethics targeting civilians is exposed through acts and has thus been accepted more willingly across the world.
Without righteousness the campaign’s structuring across multiple channels through many narratives would not have worked, this lesson should not be lost in the din of media hype. Acts seen on the ground in turn added to credibility.