The information war between Russia and Ukraine: a balance of power?

Zelensky understood the impact of video technology early on (Christophe Simon / AFP)

It is not easy to measure the extent of Russia’s control over the information war it is currently waging with Ukraine, and it is difficult to determine which of the two sides is really winning in this war. However, some data and numbers can help to understand a small part of what is happening. We start from the general scene, or that which Western media exports to the world, as the most influential media.

War as seen by the West

In the first few weeks after the invasion, American and Western media spread news reports celebrating Ukraine’s victory in the information war against Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inspiring evening speeches, photos of destroyed Russian tanks on Instagram and TikTok, and Ukrainian social media influencers exposing the invasion dominated the Western news agenda.
The Ukrainians were smart and fashionable to state their case, and their methods were original, and based on strong arguments. By contrast, Russia’s efforts to advance its “clumsy and slow” novel are somewhat similar to its invading army. In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, Russian propaganda was largely notorious, but seemed to be somewhat effective, despite revealing the use of disinformation, fake websites, and stories of fake people in spreading propaganda.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, did not properly calculate the repercussions of his war on social media this time. The man sent more than 100,000 soldiers to the borders of Ukraine, but he could not or did not respond and explained what they do there. Although the Russians did pioneering work with the so-called “hybrid warfare”, which is a mixture of fire wars and information wars, the Russian military machine seemed to fall short in dealing with the war on social media.
In 2014, Russian messages on the Internet were very sophisticated. However, it did not keep pace with developments on the network thereafter, while its Ukrainian counterpart became more powerful. Zelensky understood that live video was the weapon of the day, but Putin did not.

In 2014, Russian messages on the Internet were very sophisticated

Richard Stengel, a former editor of the American magazine “Time”, says that when he visited Ukraine in 2015, as part of his work in the State Department during the era of former US President Barack Obama, to provide assistance in correspondence techniques to the Ukrainian Ministry of Information, he was surprised by the question of the Ukrainian Minister of Information, which he did not know what the press conference was: “The Ukrainians at the time lost hope in terms of communication.” But over the next few years, they improved their communication and technology capabilities, thanks to US and European funding for social media and IT training organizations, which Ukraine benefited from.
Following the invasion, Ukraine, thanks to TikTok influencers and various Telegram channels, gave the green light to an army of IT pioneers, who volunteered from the common people to carry out cyber attacks on Russian targets. In the early days of the invasion, as many as half a million people responded to the call, which was placed on the Telegram application, which was the war’s main digital battlefield. An open source platform was created for “white crackers” to fight the Russians.
Thus, the encrypted Telegram platform became the main battlefield in the information war in Ukraine, and Russia as well. Zelensky has a channel on the platform, in which he speaks directly to the Russian people in Russia. In turn, Russia has established dozens of channels on the platform, for the same purpose. However, what emerges from the regular browser information battle of these platforms is nothing more than the tip of the iceberg, as most of this war has been hidden and present in encrypted platforms, targeting specific audiences.
Another reason for the difficulty in seeing information warfare is due to the large platforms that have abandoned their neutrality and are siding with the Ukrainian side. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google have essentially banned Russian messages, and these sites have restricted access to official Russian information channels. Facebook has banned Russian state media from publishing ads, and Russian courts have responded by announcing that Facebook is an extremist organization.
Although Zelensky is apparently the hero of Ukrainian democracy according to the Western story, he took some undemocratic measures at home and banned 11 Ukrainian political parties because of their ties with Russia, one of which is considered the largest opposition party in Ukraine. 44 seats in the Ukrainian parliament, which is It has 450 seats. Zelensky also ended independent television broadcasts in Ukraine and merged all national television channels into one government platform, which was superficially referred to by Western media, while making headlines in Russia and China.

He has taken some undemocratic measures at home

The war from a different perspective

In the midst of this information war, Stingel believes that the United States of America and the European Union made a tactical mistake in portraying the war as between the West and Russia, or even as democracy versus autocracy. This depiction may have an effective impact in America and Europe, but it will not lead to any result in the ranks of African countries, most of Asia and the Middle East, as they see in the West those colonialists who do not have democracy in their countries.
Last week, US President Joe Biden hosted a summit of eight nations from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in an attempt to put it under pressure to criticize Russia, but it responded with silence to its pressure.
While 141 countries in the United Nations voted to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the number of African, Middle Eastern and South American countries imposing sanctions on Russia is zero. When the Russian Federation issued an official list of “unfriendly” countries, no country from Africa, Asia or South America was included in the list.
Although Putin is losing the information war in Europe and America, he is holding on tight to other places, including the two most populous countries in the world: India and China, “which seem very friendly to Putin,” according to a magazine analysis. . American Time.

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According to the Economic Intelligence Unit, a British organization affiliated with the weekly newspaper The Economist, two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries that either embrace war neutrality or support Russia. According to Time’s article, part of this “neutrality” toward war is due to the fact that two-thirds of the world is already at war, unlike those seen by the United States and Europe. This is due to the process of partitioning the internet. Today, the World Wide Web is divided into three groups; We find first the American Western Internet, which is seen in the world as the “original Internet”, then the “non-free Internet” in places like Russia and India, where the authorities restrict content and censor, and finally the “Chinese internet “, which is not free at all, subject to largely under the control of the Chinese government.
The problem with the “Chinese Internet” (which makes up a fifth of the Internet’s users) is that it is a support network for Russia, and most of its users are identical to the Kremlin’s story. Non-free internet users get a lot of their information about the war from the Russian state media, which glorifies “noble” Russian soldiers, to the point that two of the most popular hashtags on the Indian internet are #IStandWithPutin and #IStandWithRussia.

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