The writer is Ukraine’s minister of culture and information policy
For Ukraine to prevail over the Russian invaders, victory on the information front will be essential. Events in our country have had, and will continue to have, an impact on the whole world, because all countries are participants in a war begun by Russia in the global information sphere.
Russian propaganda remains an effective weapon, especially outside Ukraine. The amount Moscow spends on propaganda dwarfs the spending of western countries on efforts to counter it. According to the Russian ministry of finance, from January to March 2022 Russia allocated Rbs17.4bn ($296mn) to state media (of which Rbs11.9bn was spent in March alone).
Ukraine has limited resources to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda. Shortage of funds has restricted what we have been able to do, although Freedom, a TV project, has been a notable success in presenting the true state of affairs in Ukraine to a Russian-speaking audience.
In Europe, Russia uses TV and social media to promote the narrative that sanctions are harmful to the countries that have imposed them and places the blame for unleashing aggression against Ukraine on the US.
The Russian war against Ukraine has been going on for seven months now, and, with the passage of time, public opinion in the EU is shifting somewhat. As winter approaches while energy prices rise, the purpose of Russian information attacks is clear: to force Ukraine into accepting peace on unfavourable terms by sowing social and political instability across Europe. But that won’t work if we focus on building our own mutual anti-propaganda strategy.
First of all, we should cut off sources of Russian propaganda. EU member states have blocked the broadcasting of the RT, Rossiya 24, TV Center International, RTR-Planeta and Sputnik TV channels, but some of them continue to exercise an influence via digital platforms.
We are working to ensure that the next package of sanctions includes a ban on broadcasting the propagandist First Channel, NTV and others, which are still operating on European satellite platforms. These Russian propaganda channels are very active in Latin America, Asia and Africa, where people rarely hear the truth about the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Russian propaganda works especially effectively today in those parts of the world, which are of particular interest to Moscow. As a consequence there is no understanding of the real situation on the ground or the reality of Russian military aggression.
It is extremely important for us to pay attention and start countering Russian propaganda in the territories that are currently most vulnerable to Moscow’s distorting narratives.
To this end, we propose a new form of partnership that we call Information Ramstein (after the headquarters in Germany of Nato’s Allied Air Command). The purpose of such an association would be to change current strategic approaches to countering Russian disinformation and to support independent Ukrainian media. These two tracks always run together — our domestic media is our information front; we invite all the countries of the civilised world to join it.
A meeting of allied countries should be convened as a matter of urgency, with the aim of setting out the main goals of allied information strategy, establishing anti-Russian propaganda projects and agreeing the basis of future communication between all the participants. A special financial fund should also be created to co-ordinate joint efforts to counter Kremlin disinformation.
Information Ramstein should be the platform for discussing the new information challenges posed by the way Russia is conducting its war against Ukraine and launching a unified allied front to tackle them.
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