“The Effect Will Be Zero”: How Ukraine Is Going to Wage Information Warfare in Donbass

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard



The government of Ukraine adopted the strategy of “informationally reintegrating” the territory of Donbass. Excerpts of the text of the document published by the Ukrainian media contain a set of provisions and innovations for spreading pro-Ukrainian propaganda on the territories of the two republics of Donbass. As the chairman of the People’s council of the DPR Denis Pushilin said in an interview to RT, the decision of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers wasn’t a surprise for the leadership of Donetsk, which has gotten used to the information aggression of the Ukrainian side, and are ready to take reciprocal steps. Meanwhile, experts are sure that Kiev’s propaganda won’t achieve the objectives.

The government of Ukraine adopted the strategy of “informationally reintegrating the Donetsk and Lugansk regions”, reports Interfax Ukraine.

According to the text of the strategy provided by Interfax Ukraine, the broadcasting of local TV channels on the territories of the DPR and LPR will be conducted at full capacity after Kiev re-establishes control over these territories. At the moment, when the work of the Ukrainian media in the self-proclaimed republics is limited, the authorities of the country defined some directions to counter information in Donetsk and Lugansk.

Firstly, Ukraine intends to expand the zones of the land on-air broadcasting of Ukrainian TV and radio companies. It is suggested to broadcast programmes of Ukrainian television from territories adjacent to the two self-proclaimed republics. Secondly, Kiev hopes to create a special system for the “production and distribution of specialised content” for citizens living in the DPR and LPR. At the same time, Kiev intends to influence visually and auditory impaired persons, which is why the strategy offers the “possibility” for such people “to receive information in a form accessible to them”.

One more point of the program of information war in Donbass is “carrying out systematic work with IDPs” from both republics: Ukrainian officials consider them to be an “important channel of communication” with their citizens.

Ukrainian content

As the first deputy minister of information policy Emine Dzhaparova told the Ukrainian media, the purpose of the document is providing “citizens on occupied territories with full access to the national information space”, and also the creation of conditions to “objectively inform” the citizens who live in Donbass.

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Dzhaparova added that one of the main objectives of the new strategy is to “neutralise the broadcasting” that is carried out from the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine, and also to organise the re-establishment of the broadcasting of “Ukrainian content”. She explained that, in fact, the government decided to block the radio signal coming from Donbass to territories controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In addition, the deputy minister reported that soon Kiev will construct and activate two tele-radio towers that will broadcast a signal to the territory of the DPR and LPR.

As the chairman of the People’s council of the self-proclaimed DPR Denis Pushilin said in a conversation with RT, the so-called strategy of informationally re-integrating Donbass doesn’t contain anything principally new.

“Take, for example, the proposal to stop the territories that are under the control of the Ukrainian side from receiving the signals of our TV channels. This practice is far from being new. We already regularly document attempts by the technical services of Ukraine to ensure that our TV and radio signals aren’t received on the Ukrainian side. This means that the work of our media irritates Kiev. As far as I can see, attempts to disrupt the broadcasting of our programs on Ukrainian territory weren’t crowned with success,” stated the speaker of the parliament of the Donetsk republic.

According to him, the citizens of the DPR have a good idea of the true situation in Ukraine, first of all because they communicate with their acquaintances and relatives living in this country.

“It is precisely for this reason that our citizens don’t trust the Ukrainian media,” noted Pushilin.

“We will survey Kiev’s actions”

As Pushilin noted, the leadership of the DPR hasn’t yet decided how exactly it will react to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopting the new document devoted to informationally combatting the self-proclaimed republics.

“We will survey Kiev’s actions and look at what actual steps the Ukrainian leadership will take. So far they act only in the media sphere,” concluded the politician.

Denis Pushilin

The Director of the Institute for Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov also doesn’t see anything unusual in the current decision of the government of Ukraine.

“Kiev perceives the conflict in Donbass also as an information standoff with the two republics and Russia. Since 2014 Ukraine has actually waged an information war against the DPR, LPR, and the leadership of Crimea. Ukrainian officials have now put a legislative basis on top of this fact and also made systematic decisions, on the basis of which Ukraine hopes to create an alternative point of view among the population of Donbass – so that the inhabitants of the LPR and DPR don’t consider Kiev as an aggressor that isn’t interested in constructive dialogue with Lugansk and Donetsk,” noted the expert in an interview with RT.

According to Denisov, so far the propaganda materials broadcasted by Ukraine on the territory of the self-proclaimed republics are not very effective.

“Opinion polls and research into public opinion show that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the LPR and DPR have an extremely negative attitude towards Kiev and its policies. By the way, the Ukrainian officials and law enforcement bodies understand very well that it will be very difficult for them to realise the drawn-up plan for waging information war, however the fact itself of Ukraine having a systematic approach to this war should alert the leaders of the people’s republics,” noted the expert.

According to him, Donetsk and Lugansk must look into a new strategy of combatting Ukraine’s propaganda and develop adequate measures to counter it.

“The most important thing is that a point of view that serves as an alternative to Kiev’s is offered to the citizens of the LDPR by their local media,” added the expert.

Distorted reality

The president of the Center for System Analysis and Forecasting Rostislav Ishchenko, in turn, stated to RT that it’s unlikely that the information war that Ukraine is going to wage against the self-proclaimed states will be effective.

“I believe that the effect of these actions will be zero for Kiev owing to its general incorrect approach to the topic of the information war. I will give such an example: recently the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine stated that 75% of the broadcasting of their TV channels and media in Crimea is in the Ukrainian language. But if, for example, you carry out broadcasting in Great Britain in the Russian language, regardless of the quality of your content, you can consider that more than 50% of your work was for nothing. Crimeans, having heard the Ukrainian language, will automatically change the TV channel. And not because they don’t know Ukrainian – they know it, but the Russian language is closer to them, it is native for them. And when there is a choice (and Crimeans have one), they, of course, will choose Russian-speaking media,” said the expert.

According to Ishchenko, the mistake of Ukrainian propagandists is that their information programs are kept in the same ideological key as broadcasts geared towards the Ukrainian viewer.

“Those who live on territories under Ukraine’s control understand that the media distorts the real picture, and they do it substantially. It is obvious that those who live in Crimea or in the people’s republics relate even more skeptically to the material on Ukraine’s informational websites and TV channels,” emphasised Ishchenko.

The expert also noted that it is unlikely that the spreading of propaganda among those who moved to Ukrainian territory from the DPR and LPR will be crowned with success for Kiev.

“Practice shows that these propagandist actions give exactly the opposite effect. The fact is that information warfare must rely on at least some reality. It is possible to convince someone that rotten tomatoes are not rotten, but fresh. But it is impossible to convince them that tomatoes are apricots. Kiev doesn’t want to understand that those who moved from the self-proclaimed states on Ukrainian territory were initially loyal to Ukraine. However, they then didn’t receive the promised help from the State. On the contrary, they are treated at all levels like ‘semi-Ukrainians’ and are told that it is because of them that war happens in the southeast of the country,” said Ishchenko.

Against this background no propaganda is capable of returning the trust of the people in the Ukrainian state, summed up the expert.

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