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Is Russian Information Warfare Counter-Productive?

Section 8 and Conclusions from “Old Wine in a New Bottle: Russia’s Modernization of Traditional Soviet Information Warfare and Active Policies Against Ukraine and Ukrainians”.

by Taras Kuzio, the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine

Those watching Russian TV might be surprised to find that it often focuses more on Ukraine than on Russia itself. One estimate claimed that a third of the information on Russian TV is on Ukraine, and 90 percent of this is negative. Of the 9 million Tweets published by Twitter that came from Russia, 755,000 were on Ukraine from over 1,369 accounts.93 The European Union’s disinformation unit found that ‘Almost five years into the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Kremlin’s use of the information weapon against Ukraine has not decreased; Ukraine still stands out as the most misrepresented country in pro-Kremlin media’.94 Boris Duregger discusses three narratives in Russia’s information warfare against Ukraine.95 The first he calls the ‘Family Narrative’, where Ukrainians and Russians were born together in Kyiv Rus and will continue living together in the Russkiy Mir. The second narrative is of a backward Ukraine, ‘which is reminiscent of the nineteenth century Russian image of Ukrainians as ignorant and clownish in character’.96 The third is the tradi- tional narrative of a ‘fascist’ Ukraine. The second and third narratives are especially at odds with the first during a period of time when Ukrainian identity has been shocked and stunned by Russia’s military aggression in the Crimea and Donbas. Katri Pynnoniemi and Andras Racz describe the ‘One Nation’ narrative as one that ‘mixes imperial mythology with a sense of betrayal (resentment) felt towards Ukraine for failing to follow Russia’s lead’.97 
There have been four outcomes to Russia’s information warfare against Ukraine and Ukrainians. The first is that it has led to a major decline in trust in Russian TV, which until 2014 was watched by a large number of Ukrainians. Only 8.9 percent of Ukrainians trust Russian TV, with a high of 80.4 percent who distrust it.98 Two-thirds of Ukrainians believe that Russian propaganda is a threat to Ukraine, including 58 percent and 67 percent in the east and south respectively.99 Among young Ukrainians, of whom only 2 percent watch Russian TV, the collapse in influence of Russian media has been catastrophic. In eastern and southern Ukraine, only 4 percent and 1 percent respectively of young people watch Russian TV, and 7 percent in both regions read Russian websites; 49 percent of Ukrainians watch Ukrainian TV.100