Russia deploys an extended disinformation campaign against Ukraine

Russian military and intelligence entities are targeting Ukraine with disinformation attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship

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Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea after a military intervention and continues to fuel conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia has now amassed more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine while President Vladimir Putin threatens “retaliatory military-technical” measures if his demands are not met.

In this continuous aggressive policy, hybrid warfare plays a significant role. Several Russian military and intelligence entities are also involved in an extended hybrid war against Ukraine. Over many years, Russia has fabricated a set of false narratives that its disinformation and propaganda ecosystem persistently injects into the global information environment.

“These narratives”, according to a press release by U.S. State Department’s Ned Price, “act like a template, which enables the Kremlin to adjust these narratives, with one consistency – a complete disregard for the truth as it shapes the information environment to support its policy goals.”   

Hybrid war

The Department of State, working with the U.S. interagency, is aware of the Russian military and intelligence entities that are engaged in information confrontation targeting Ukraine.

As the Office of the Spokesperson pointed out on January 20, “these activities include the spread of disinformation and propaganda attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine relationship. Such measures are intended to influence Western countries into believing Ukraine’s behavior could provoke a global conflict and convince Russian citizens of the need for Russian military action in Ukraine.”

These entities are involved in this disinformation activity through Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem: they perform malign social media operations, use overt and covert online proxy media outlets, inject disinformation into television and radio programming, host conferences designed to influence attendees into falsely believing that Ukraine, not Russia, is at fault for heightened tensions in the region, and leverage cyber operations to deface media outlets and conduct hack and release operations.

As Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated on January 20, “Russia has used hybrid tactics, including disinformation and other influence campaigns, to destabilize Ukraine for years. In 2020, Kremlin officials launched a comprehensive information operation plan designed in part to degrade the ability of the Ukrainian state to independently function; the individuals designated today played key roles in that campaign.”

Disinformation

Part of this disinformation war is the accusation that the United States has planned chemical weapons attacks in the Donbas.

Nevertheless, both the United States and Russia are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The United States does not use chemical weapons following its obligations under that international agreement. However, the Russian government has twice used chemical weapons in recent years to attack and attempt to assassinate opponents, including on foreign soil.

Russia also claims to defend the ethnic Russians in Ukraine. But, there are no credible reports of any ethnic Russians or Russian speakers being under threat from the Ukrainian government. However, there are credible reports that in Russia-occupied Crimea and the Donbas, Ukrainians face suppression of their culture and national identity and live in an environment of severe repression and fear. In Crimea, Russia forces Ukrainians to assume Russian citizenship in threat of losing their property, access to healthcare, and jobs. Those who peacefully express opposition to Russia’s occupation or control face imprisonment on baseless grounds, police raids on their homes, officially sanctioned discrimination, and in some cases suffer torture and other abuses. Religious and ethnic minorities are investigated and prosecuted as “extremists” and “terrorists.”

The current crisis

Moscow instigated the current crisis by placing more than 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine, with no similar military activity on the Ukrainian side of the border. Moscow blames others for its aggression, but it is its responsibility to end this crisis peacefully through de-escalation and diplomacy. This follows a pattern of Russian behavior of undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries in the region – invading and occupying parts of Georgia in 2008, and failing to honor its 1999 commitment to withdraw its troops and munitions from Moldova, where they remain without the government’s consent.

Deploying more than 100,000 Russian troops, including battle-hardened combat forces and offensive weaponry with no plausible innocuous explanation, to the borders of a country that Russia has previously invaded and still occupies in places is no mere troop rotation. It is a clear, renewed Russian threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The role of the Federal Security Service (FSB)

In advance of a potential future invasion of Ukraine, Russian intelligence services, mainly the Federal Security Service (FSB), a U.S. sanctioned entity, recruit Ukrainian nationals in key positions to gain access to sensitive information. The FSB leverages these officials in an attempt to create instability in Ukraine.

“In close coordination with the Government of Ukraine, the United States is working to identify, expose, and impose costs on these actors to foil these influence operations,” stated Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.  “The United States today is imposing sanctions on four individuals connected to ongoing Russian intelligence service-directed influence activities designed to destabilize Ukraine,” said Secretary of State. “This action is intended to target, highlight, and undercut Russia’s ongoing destabilization effort in Ukraine. It is separate and distinct from the broad range of high impact measures the United States and its allies and partners are prepared to impose to inflict significant costs on the Russian economy and financial system if it were to further invade Ukraine.”

The individuals targeted by the US, two of whom are members of Ukraine’s parliament, act at the direction of the FSB and support Russia’s destabilizing and dangerous influence operations, which undermine not just Ukraine but also the fundamental principles of democracy. The four individuals designated are Taras Kozak, Oleh Voloshyn, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Vladimir Sivkovich.

This action is in line with others to target Russian disinformation campaigns, including 32 election interference designations announced in April 2021.

Theodoros Benakis
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Theodoros Benakis - Editor, The America Times

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