In a recent interview, Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andriy Paraubiy said the European Union decision to extend sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine is a sign that Ukraine is winning the information war against Russia.
Parubiy is wrong and here are five reasons why.
The first is that it is unclear why Ukraine should take credit for a decision of the EU, which made this decision after discussions among its 28 members and in consultation with the US and Canada. Ukrainian diplomats, ambassadors and President Petro Poroshenko may have lobbied the EU to support the continuation of sanctions but ultimately it was a decision made by EU members.
Further, Ukraine should not be complacent about the EU’s continued willingness to support sanctions. Greece, Italy and Hungary do not support the sanctions as do not nationalist populist parties that are becoming increasingly popular throughout Europe.
Germany is the key country on sanctions and Chancellor Angela Merkel is central to their continuation. If the more Russophile social democrats come to power Germany’s position will change and this will negatively affect the EU’s position.
The second factor is that Parubiy’s claim ignores the fact that Russia is “losing” and Ukraine is “winning” only because the majority of Western politicians and publics hold a negative view of Vladimir Putin and Russian policies, which has nothing to do with Ukrainian actions in the“information war.”
Russia is today viewed as an aggressor and a revanchist country not because of official Kyiv’s information policy but because the German-speaking Putin misjudged Germany’s reaction to his annexation of the Crimea and the impact of Russia’s shooting down of MH17.
As Viktor Yanukovych found in Washington D.C., spending millions of dollars cannot sell a product if the product is beyond its sell by date. Despite billions of dollars spent by Russia on the“information war,” only China, Vietnam and Ghana viewed Russia favorably.
Ukrainian private initiatives (e.g. Stop Fake, Information Napalm, etc.,) have contributed more success in Ukraine’s “information war” than the puny efforts of Poroshenko, Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman and Parubiy.
The third factor is that there is no evidence of a “Ukrainian information war” compared to the billions of dollars spent by Russia on its propaganda machine (Russia Today, Sputnik, etc.,).
Until it closed down this year, there was Ukraine Today but it was funded by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, which was a worthy attempt to counter Russian propaganda, although mimicking the same name for the television channel as Russia Today was rather pathetic. Kolomoisky also funded the world’s only Jewish 24 news channel (JN1) which also closed down last year. Both of these could have received government funding and contributed to Ukraine’s “information war.”
The Ukrainian Ministry of Information Policy, established in December 2014 under Yuriy Stets, was met with derision by Ukrainian independent journalists. Its budget remains small and by 2015 had only 29 employees compared to 2,000 for Russia Today. Ukraine’s ministry is seeking to launch a new English-language television channel and has begun recruiting foreign journalists. My nephew, Stefan Jajecznyk, was approached with an offer to work there for the monthly salary of $1,000, which is a very low amount that will not attract Western English-speaking professionals.
Clearly, Poroshenko’s, Stech’s and Parubiy’s “information war” is mimicking Russia in seeking to show they are doing something – rather than nothing – but it cannot be called a major rebuff to Russian propaganda.
The fourth factor is that Ukraine has always had a passive propaganda, PR and lobbying effort and nothing has changed despite the biggest crisis in Europe since World War II taking place in 2014. As a senior member ofthe presidential administration confided to me, they continually request that Ukrainian diplomatic representations abroad work in these three fields (propaganda, PR and lobbying) but with little success.
I did not notice any major propaganda activities by the Ukrainian Embassy in the Netherlands prior to the April referendum on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. When I worked in Washington D.C., one of four key strategic Western capital cities (together with London, Brussels and Berlin)m I never noticed any PR and lobbying activities by the Ukrainian Embassy.
Instead, Ukrainian presidents, governments and political parties have wasted millions ofdollars in paying US political consultants who do not bring major benefits (see my extensive survey of two decades of Ukrainian lobbying in Washington D.C. here.
A major reason why Ukraine is largely absent from the international media and lobbying is because the English language is still not widely spoken among Ukrainian political and business elites. Few Ukrainian political leaders publish commentaries in Western newspapers, with the exception of Viktor Yushchenko, Viktor Yanukovych, Yulia Tymosheno and Poroshenko. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, although an English speaker, was as uninterested in courting English-language public opinion as he was Ukrainian.
In the West, academics and think tank experts write the majority of newspaper and magazine commentaries. But, this is not the case for Ukraine because most Ukrainian experts in politics and international relations don’t know the English language and their universities do not have the funds to subscribe to Western publications.
I can therefore literally count on one hand the names of Ukrainian experts who regularly write in Western publications; for example, although the Razumkov Centre is Kyiv’s leading think tank, its experts never publish in Western publications.
Fifthly, unlike Russia, Ukraine does not seek to lobby and pay important and influential Western public opinion makers.
In doing this work, Russia is drawing upon decades of Soviet experience in recruiting and influencing Westerners sympathetic to Moscow.
Extreme left-wing politicians,political experts and academics (Great Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Sakwa, Stephen Cohen, etc.,) are active in print and on television and radio, parroting the Putin line on Ukraine. Right-wing “realists” (e.g. Henry Kissinger, John Mearsheimer, etc.,) write from a different angle but nevertheless also consign Ukraine to Russia’s sphere of influence.
The American, Canadian and British Ukrainian diaspora has never been asked by Ukrainian political leaders to cooperate in the “information war” with Russia. Articles and interviews on television and radio by members of the Ukrainian diaspora have been undertaken at their own initiative.
In 2014-2015, I did 300 print and electronic interviews for media outlets from throughout th eworld and during that time was never approached on a single occasion by Ukrainian politician leaders, government officials or diplomats.
I have three proposals to make to launch Ukraine’s “information war.”
The first is for parliament to make English an official language. English, the dominant international language, should become compulsory in education and for all state officials. Knowledge of English will freeUkrainians from the psychological domination of the Russian World.
The second is to reach out to the Ukrainian diaspora in a newstrategy to counter Russian propaganda. Although there are millions of Ukrainians in North America many of whohave skills in the media, lobbying, PR, government communications andpropaganda they have not been approached by Poroshenko or Hroysman. Undoubtedly, many political technologists in Ukraine (the majority of who donot speak English) would see this as a threat to their lucrative lifestyles and seek to undermine such a move.
The third is to adopt a strategy to integrate the Ukrainian academic community into the Western scholarly community of ideas. Currently, the situation is abysmal in the field of Ukrainian politics and Serhiy Kudelia has persuasively written that there is no such thing as “political science” in Ukraine. In the 1990s, Ukraine published Politychna Dumka, Politolohichne Chytannya and others but today there are no political science journals published in the country; one new exception is the online Kyiv Mohyla Law and Politics.
Eastern European countries publish political science and international relations journals in their own language and in English that reach a wide international audience.
Poroshenko resembles his mentor President Leonid Kuchma in that theyboth mimic the rhetoric of Ukraine seeking European integration while doing very little to help Ukrainians to psychologically break away from the Russian World. Poroshenko and Kuchma feel more comfortable with one leg in Eurasia and another in Europe because they are preferring to continue operating in a Byzantine manner by undertaking opaque deals in backrooms from which they personally gain.
Poroshenko and Parubiy both have no understanding of the outside world where the “information war” with Russia is being waged and where any victories are a product of Putin’s mistakes rather than Ukrainian successes.
By Kyiv Post
Taras Kuzio is a senior research fellow at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta. His most recent book ‘Ukraine: Democratization, Corruption and the New Russian Imperialism’ (Praeger, June 2015) surveys modern Ukrainian political history from 1953 to the present