“Information Ramstein”, Or How to Win the Information War

24 September 2022, 01:29 PM
Russia uses television as the main element of propaganda at home and abroad (Photo:pexels.com)

Russia uses television as the main element of propaganda at home and abroad (Photo:pexels.com)

Countering Russian disinformation and propaganda will require unifying the efforts of all civilized countries, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture says. They’ve proposed the creation of a united “information front” in Ukraine and its partners, calling this concept “Information Ramstein.” 

Three questions have been posed to leading figures and experts on disinformation. Exclusively for NV, we’ve collected their answers.

1. Why do you consider the creation of “Information Ramstein” to be important?

2. What are our most pressing common tasks of Ukraine and the civilized world in this phase of the information war?

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3. In contrast to the propaganda of the Russian Federation, the main efforts of the Western world have so far been focused on cutting off access to Russian media, and not on building their own anti-propaganda strategy. What do you think should be the three pillars of this joint anti-propaganda strategy?

Oleksandr Tkachenko, Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine

1. Today, Russia’s war against the entire civilized world is ongoing, particularly in the global information dimension. Therefore, our joint victory with our allies on the information front is one of the decisive factors for the overall victory.

One of the forms of assistance to Ukraine is when the West remains powerful and the Russians cannot destroy values, economy and stability of the civilized world.

2. In order to prevent the victory of the Russians in this information war, the civilized world must fight against Russian disinformation not only with recommendations or monitoring, but also with active measures. We offer a new form of partnership – “Information Ramstein”. The purpose of such an association is to change strategic approaches in countering Russian disinformation and support independent Ukrainian media. These two tracks always stand together, because our media is our information front, which we invite all the democratic countries to join to.

It is extremely important to initiate a meeting of allied countries in the nearest future with the aim of developing the main strategic goals, anti-Russian propaganda projects and the basics of communications between all participants and creating a special financial fund to coordinate joint efforts to counter Kremlin propaganda.

“Information Ramstein” should become a platform for discussing new information challenges of wartime and launch a unified information front of the allied countries.

3. As for the banning of Russian media, not all Russian propaganda media are banned in the free Western world with speed and completeness with which it should be done. It is worth paying attention to the fact that today Russia Today is focusing its efforts on social networks.

Three steps to take first:

  • Coordination of all counter-propaganda efforts: the creation of operational headquarters of the countries of the free world for an immediate response to information stuffing constantly made by the Russian Federation;
  • Cooperation with our partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where Russian mass media, which bring chaos and destabilize the situation in the democratic countries of these regions, remain freely accessible;
  • The experience of hostilities in Ukraine shows that the best defense is an offensive. That is why in the information sphere it is necessary to move from defense to information offensive. For example, to destroy the infrastructure used by the Russians to conduct information wars: as abroad (RT, Sputnik, broadcast of federal channels via satellite, pro-Russian parties and individual experts in foreign countries, etc.), and also within the Russian Federation itself.

Strengthening work on informing the Russian-speaking population in Russia itself and around the world, since federal channels and other opportunities used by Russia through its agents of influence remain quite powerful. Therefore, informing the Russian-speaking population about what is really happening in Ukraine and around Ukraine in the world is extremely important.

Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow, Johns Hopkins University. Author.

1. The aggressor has a huge information warfare machine that it uses together with other tools like energy blackmail and so on. It would influence the world. The only way Ukraine and other democracies are going to be able to compete is to put our strengths together.

Ukrainians are amazing at winning sympathy and empathy and explaining the values of this war. But it does not always have the sort of financial influence, media reach or cultural connection that allies have in different markets. We have to put our strengths together in order to achieve an effect together. And that means democratic governments working together, but also media and civil society.

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2. One is to really make clear that Russia can never be a normal partner again. Russia is a serial abuser. Russia’s war against Ukraine is also a war against Europe and the world. Russia uses its military to attack Ukraine, but it also uses energy blackmail in Europe, it’s using hunger across the world, it uses corruption everywhere. And it is very important for Europeans to understand that they are not just helping Ukraine, they are also fighting their own battle against Russia. They need to stop Russia being in the position where it can abuse Europe through energy, blackmail the world through hunger, and abuse corruption to degrade democracies. That’s very important because I think for a lot of countries in Europe Russia is seen as something that they have to do a deal with and throughout the world – in the Global South, Latin America – it’s seen as a guarantor for security and stability. We have to show that Russia is the opposite – Russia brings chaos, and destruction, it is a country that people need to cut their ties with.

3. Pillar number one is being very-very clear about the effects you want to achieve. Information has to lead to political effects. Which market does one focus on and why.  There’s a risk of just doing information campaigns for the sake of themselves. There’s no time for that in war.

Number two is having an organizational capacity. The Ukrainians should lead. But we need a real understanding of where everybody's strengths are. What do the British bring this? What do the Irish bring this? It’s really the case of sitting down and understanding which country is best of doing what. Ireland, for example, will be the best at cultural diplomacy in Latin America. Britain might be good for showing up support in the US and Australia/New Zealand: AUKUS.

We have seen how different allies have brought different weapons and helped Ukraine in different ways depending on what their expertise is. We need the same in the informational and influence space.

Pillar three is thinking in multi-vectoral campaigns. The adversary has its slow tank columns on information war. We don’t have those, but we have many nimble forces who can come out of the information woods and attack the adversary from sudden angles. Take somewhere like Hungary. I would like to see the Ukrainian government making trust building initiatives with the Hungarians, common efforts on border security for example. Meanwhile Vysegrad countries should pressure the Orban government to soften its support of Moscow, or risk losing their support in the EU. Anti-corruption groups need to focus on unmasking business elites who carry on doing business with Russia.

Oleh Shamshur, diplomat, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine

1. The task is relevant, because after the first phase of the war, when the indignation and shock from Russian aggression in the West was almost total, now there is a process of a certain “getting used to” the horrors of the war. This is superimposed on the fears of ordinary citizens of Western countries about the negative impact of the war on their well-being. Propaganda is trying to play on this field, in particular by promoting the thesis of a “ceasefire” that would allow Russia to record its encroachments.

2 A. Do not allow the understanding that the war is a consequence of Russian aggression to be blurred.

B. Always interpret the actions of Russia as illegal actions of the aggressor country.

C. Regularly and fully report on the crimes of the Russian army.

D. Conduct an honest dialogue with the citizens of Western countries regarding the need to put an end to the expansionist policy of Russia, which will have harmful consequences for the entire democratic community, even if this means economic and financial sacrifices.

E. Explain to the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America that the aggravation of world economic problems is a consequence of Russian actions, and its policy towards Ukraine is similar to the actions of colonial powers.

3. 1) Information must be objective and verified. The principle of freedom of speech should not be the object of manipulation in order to justify the actions of the aggressor actually.

2) Member countries of the process at the official level should develop a mechanism for coordinating messages of a general nature (see above) and major events.

3) Information about the war should be regular so that this topic does not disappear or is not lost in the information cycle.

Yevhen Holovakha, psychologist, sociologist and public figure; Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Director of the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

1. The initiative is relevant both in terms of the first position – support for independent media, and in terms of the second – counter-propaganda. In Ukraine, there is a real acute problem of financial support for independent media. Therefore, it is time to develop a program to support independent media, which are an extremely important element of the resistance, and then after the victory and reconstruction of Ukraine. It is necessary to make efforts and find understanding from Western partners. Everything today goes primarily to defense. And it is the state’s job to defend the interests of independent mass media and support their important work.

As for the second point, – the counter-propaganda strategy, - I think, unfortunately, we are losing for now. The war with Russia began as an information war, then passed into the economic dimension, later became a hybrid one, and now we are going through a hot phase. I have always emphasized that Russia is capable of systematic violence. One of the means of systemic violence is the imposition of information that dehumanizes the opponent. And those who constantly use distorted information are turned into obedient executors of the will of a certain ruling elite. Russian politicians are professional propagandists, because they have historical experience of exercising consistent imperial influence on mass consciousness. We can’t do that. We have actually missed the first phase of the information war. And now we should think over how to take back the initiative and confront that very huge damage both in Russia (because there (means in Russia) the majority of the population has turned into zombies or people who are simply afraid to have their own opinion to express something), and in Europe.

2. I am sure that we can develop a system of anti-propaganda influence, which would, firstly, be based on covering all spheres of life, not only about war. Secondly, it should cover all countries that are our allies. We should appeal to all of them and emphasize that Russian propaganda is based on methods known since World War II, which were used by Goebbels and others. But russian propaganda borrowed from the Nazis not only the means of influencing the masses, but also multiplied everything with huge funds, which even Goebbels did not have. The principles of totalitarian propaganda multiplied by incredible funds means are a very terrible weapon.

The interest of our allies is not to support Ukrainians as good people, who are defending their own country from aggression. Their interest lies primarily in the fact that their countries will not become victims of new aggression from modern Russia, so that their citizens will not become totalitarian zombies. Our task is to explain methodically and persistently. Therefore, systematization is needed.

Three principles on which the new counter-propaganda campaign should be built.

The first is historical existence. Ukrainians experienced firsthand what Russia is like. We are being killed. And even despite this, according to polls, nearly 8-10 percent of pro-Russian citizens in Ukraine remain under the influence of Russian propaganda. However, I will answer as a sociologist that there are even more of them, about 15-20 percent, because not everyone is ready to express their opinion in the conditions of war, when everything is black and white, if it contradicts the opinion of the overwhelming majority. Therefore, counter-propaganda is also required in Ukraine, although it will be easier for us to deal with the remnants of pro-Russian sentiments, given our direct experience of perceiving the Russian invasion. However, there are many Europeans who have forgotten what Russia is like, that the aggressor country is the successor of the Soviet Union. The last war on the continent was a long time ago. Because the Czech Republic and Germany remembered something from the history of the last century. And the Hungarians, for example, did not. Therefore, the mission of Ukrainians is to remember the lessons of history, we must seriously work with such countries as Hungary, Serbia...

It is necessary to demonstrate the principle of historical existence, to draw parallels between the present and the times of the Horde invasion. Let’s recall how the Great Campaign to the West began in 1236. Until now, historians argue about how many Mongol and allied troops went on this grand tour, but these forces were enough to triumphantly march from Volga Bulgaria (now Kazan) almost to Venice and the Adriatic Sea in six years! The russian principalities, Poland and Hungary, Transcaucasia and the German lands, Croatia and the Duchy of Austria, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria belong to the Mongols. It is necessary to remind that it was a threat to the whole of Europe and to remind that today’s russia is the successor of the Horde, the principles of whose political organization are reproduced in modern russia, which, in addition, is the successor of the principles of Byzantine politics. russia adopted them, improving them over the centuries. Some Europeans now do not really understand why they should worry about Mariupol or Kherson. That is why it is so important to remind them persistently about the principle of historicity that russia is the successor of empires – from the Horde to the USSR – not only formally, but also in its entire political and moral-psychological essence.

The historical roots and continuity of evil must be clearly explained.

The second principle is the principle of humanization of Ukrainians. Russians consistently dehumanized us in the eyes of their own population, attaching all kinds of Nazi labels. They are also trying to impose their influence on the whole world through their agents. An interesting sociological aspect: according to Levada Center research from 2014-2015, even after 2014, Ukrainians treated Russians better than Russians treated Ukrainians. Although it was the Russians who attacked us, they harmed us. In order to humanize Ukrainians in the context of countering Russian propaganda, we need to provide more examples of human behavior of Ukrainians in inhumane conditions. Unfortunately, our Ukrainian counter-propaganda hardly uses such plots. It is necessary to emphasize this separately.

The principle of humanization will work well through visual, even artistic expressiveness. One visually correctly expressed transmitted fact is worth a dozen pages of text. It is difficult for most people to master large texts and for better perception of information, a picture is perceived  more. This should be taken into account. Why do you think the comic book genre is so popular with Americans? Easy perception.

Humanization with visual expressiveness will work effectively. Artists must be actively involved. Ukrainians, unlike the aggressor, preserve humanity even in difficult conditions.

The third principle is the credibility of the source of information. We have to attract the most authoritative people in the world, in Europe, Ukraine, even in Russia. This is done spontaneously, but it should be done systematically.

N.B. One of the main problems in the implementation of Ramstein’s idea is private ownership of mass media.

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