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Macon Phillips, Coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs at the U. S. Department of State and Ariel Cohen, Director of Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security discuss Russian information wars in Kyiv on Nov. 19 at the Kyiv Post Tiger Conference. © Anastasia Vlasova
Oksana Lyachynska, Kyiv Post.
What does the Russian propaganda war mean for Ukraine and the world? How do you fight it? Experts from the United States, Britain and Ukraine attempted to answer these and other questions at the Kyiv Post Tiger Conference.
Below are some of the highlights from their talks.
Macon Phillips, coordinator of Bureau of International Information Programs at the U.S. Department of State
“Russia, the Kremlin push a lot of disinformation and you nearly want to argue about every individual piece of information, why it’s right or wrong. … We need to do more in terms of response. We need to actually protect the open system of media that is by far the best way to respond to these things.”
“The most effective way to counter the information war here in Ukraine is for Ukraine to succeed. We can spend all of our time trying to respond to this or that. But ultimate reality is going to drive that. If the Ukrainian government continues to implement reforms, continues to move forward, continues to sustain itself, eventually the reality will reach everyone.”
“The best way to respond to misinformation is with the truth. But the truth is a difficult thing to talk about.”
Dmytro Kuleba, Ambassador-at-Large for Strategic Communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
“Russian information aggression is a threat not only to Ukraine but to all democracies. … The only difference is that Ukraine is in the front line.”
“What Russians are doing is not information attacks or information campaigns or information operations. They created a comprehensive reality encompassing all aspects of their interests. When you have to confront reality you have to create your own reality.”
“Russian information machine is built on fakes and manipulation, so if we want to win this game we have to focus on credibility.”
“It’s about changing communication culture inside the Ukrainian government. For example, minister of defense is key here. And we are working to change the communication culture to become more available for media. This is critical.”
“Russian strategy is based on the use of weapons of mass destruction. By this I mean Russia Today, Sputnik, army of trolls, bots, proxies, paid commentators. We base our strategy on something completely different, we base it on opinion leaders. I call them precision weapons. What cannot be done by us, can be done by opinion leaders in their countries. They can help us to disseminate the message. All we have to do is make them trust. They need to have trust in us.”
Ariel Cohen, director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security
“We believe that Ukraine can make it as a European, free, Western-minded country. So does Vladimir Putin. And he is scared of that because an alternative Slavic, Eastern Slavic, Orthodox, half-of-the-country Russian-speaking country next to Russia is something they cannot tolerate. And information warfare is a very-very important part of the fight that has been launched.”
“To me Ukraine is now fighting its war for independence. This is where the United States was in 1776, where Israel was in 1948. This is creation of a nation. A part of it is an understanding that information is one of the battle fields, it’s an integral part of the strategy, of the war fighting.”
“To answer your question about Ukraine, what this is going to be in terms of the information campaign or information warfare, there is a famous quote from the cult novel of the Soviet times “The Twelve Chairs”: ”Saving of those who sink is the matter for those who sink themselves.” So, it will be up for Ukraine.”
Timothy Ash, London-based head of emerging market research for Standard Bank
“Over twenty years Russian interests infiltrated the West.”
“To know your enemy is key. The Russian state knows exactly how West functions because they infiltrated business, banking, academia, journalism, politics in the West. … The infiltration of Russian interests in the West is a huge threat to Western values and Western civilization. … The weaknesses of European Union is certainly been exploited.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity for radical change. Countries very really get this opportunity. Crises create opportunities, they force change. Ukraine is in desperate need of deep structural change. Putin has done a huge favor by uniting the population around this concept of European values. There is the price, but the fighting for democracy and freedom is worth it.”
Paul Niland, managing director of PAN Publishing
“The Russian media is acting to continue this fight to encourage people as volunteers to come and to kill people in the east of Ukraine. And for that reason my conclusion is that the Kremlin is directly responsible for all those deaths. They are directing media campaign, they are responsible.”
“The second conclusion is as long as Russia’s media campaign against Ukraine continues we can expect the hot war continue as well. They go hand in hand one to support the other.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they meet Koalas before the start of the first G20 meeting in Brisbane on Nov. 15, 2014. © AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin has come under intense pressure from the West over Moscow’s support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine at the G20 summit in Australia, with various leaders publicly criticising the country over the conflict.
British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Russia of “bullying a smaller state in Europe” and warned Russia that it would face further sanctions if it continues “destabilising Ukraine”.
Speaking on Saturday on the sidelines of the two-day summit in Brisbane, Cameron told the UK’s Sky News: “I am very frank when I meet with him [Putin] that the things that Russia has done in Ukraine are unacceptable.”
During a closed-door meeting between Cameron and Putin, the British leader warned that the Russian leader had a choice to make, according to sources quoted by British media.
“The prime minister was clear at the start of the Ukraine discussions that we face a fork in the road, in terms of where we go next,” the UK source reportedly said.
‘Get out of Ukraine’
Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, is reported to have told Putin at the summit to “get out of Ukraine”.
According to Jason MacDonald, Harper’s spokesman, the prime minister told the Russian leader: “I guess I will shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.”
On Saturday, members of Putin’s delegation said that he planned to leave the G20 summit early and it was reported the president was forced to eat alone at the G20 dinner on Saturday night.
Speaking on Friday at the summit, US President Barack Obama said: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine [is] a threat to the world”.
Meanwhile, Putin said that Russia will not allow the Ukraine government to “destroy” its political opponents and adversaries in east Ukraine.
“The most important thing is that one does not have a one-sided view of the problem,” Putin said in a first brief excerpt of the interview that was broadcast by German television network ARD.
The full interview will be broadcast on Sunday evening.
“Today there is fighting taking place in the east of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has deployed troops there,” Putin told ARD, which said the interview was conducted on Thursday evening in Vladivostok.
“There have even been missiles fired, but is that mentioned? There’s not been a word on that.
“That means, that you [the Western media] want the Ukrainian government to destroy everything there, including all their political opponents and adversaries.
“Is that what you want? That is not what we want and we will not allow that to happen.”
Kiev has accused Russia of sending soldiers and weapons to help separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine to launch a new offensive in a conflict that has killed more than 4,000 people.
Russia has denied it is involved in the recent escalation in fighting in its neighbour.
World growth urged
The general agenda of the G20 summit is focused on boosting world growth, fireproofing the global banking system and closing tax loopholes for giant multinationals.
Climate change and the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa are also among the issues to be discussed.
As host, Australia will continue pushing its growth agenda, despite growing security tensions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a joint news conference with Cameron.
Australia is pushing for an increase in global growth targets of two percent by 2018 to create millions of jobs.
The G20 is made up of 19 countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the US – and the 28-member European Union.
The group accounts for 80 percent of world trade and 85 percent of global economic production.
Armed search of the Mejlis building lasting 12 hours.
Who else could achieve a return to the worst forms of Soviet repression in less than 9 months? How can remembrance of the victims of a terrible crime against humanity be banned and the use of words like ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’ be termed ‘extremist’? Why is Vladimir Putin’s only response to the disappearances and abductions of Crimean Tatars a claim that it’s all news to him?
Vladimir Putin asserted that Russia’s effective invasion of the Crimea was to protect people and save lives. The first death was of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar peacefully protesting against Russian annexation. Since then all deaths, disappearances and abductions have been of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian opponents of Russian rule.
The Crimean Tatars were not alone in opposing the annexation, but as the largest indigenous people of the Crimea the refusal by the Mejlis, or Crimean Tatar representative body, to support the pseudo-referendum on March 16 was a major embarrassment for Russia. It was one that the Kremlin and its puppet government in the Crimea have not forgotten.
The Soviet tactics began almost immediately. On April 22, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev was handed a 5-year-ban on entering his homeland. This came two days after the 71-year-old former Soviet political prisoner and Ukrainian MP, on his first return to Simferopol since annexation, insisted that the Ukrainian flag be reinstated over the Mejlis building.
Since then a similar ban has been imposed on the current head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov. A major offensive has been launched against the Mejlis itself with the occupation regime clearly trying to crush a body which it has tried and failed to force into submission.
On the eve of the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars, the occupation regime banned all public events and used riot police, paramilitaries and soldiers to prevent Crimean Tatars from gathering in the centre of Simferopol as they had for the last 23 years. Even military helicopters were used over prayer gatherings on the outskirts of Simferopol and Bakhchysarai.
FSB [Security Service] surveillance and a hunt for ‘extremists’ began almost immediately. The first warning about ‘extremism’ issued to the Mejlis newspaper ‘Avdet’ was because it used such impolite terms as ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’. Later it was again accused of extremism in reporting the Mejlis’ call to boycott the Sept 14 elections.
With such a broad understanding of ‘extremism’, anything can be expected and over recent months Russia and its puppets in the Crimea have been proving that anything will be tried. There have been a number of searches by armed men in masks of private homes, mosques and religious schools, with these most ominously coinciding with unfounded claims of radicalization of Crimean Muslims.
There have also been a number of disappearances and abductions of young Crimean Tatar men. According to Ali Khamzin from the Mejlis, Russia used such disappearances, allegations of radicalization and armed searches at the beginning of armed conflicts in Chechnya to justify more aggressive measures by the Russian enforcement bodies against particular groups.
The occupation regime has shown no real effort to find the killers of Reshat Ametov, or three civic activists in opposition to Russian rule who disappeared back in May. Quite the contrary, it is seeking to have a law passed which would provide a past and future amnesty for the so-called ‘self-defence’ paramilitaries who played a large, and often bloody, role in establishing Russian rule.
In stark contrast to this, arrests are still taking place on trumped-up charges dating back to the peaceful protest on May 3 when Mustafa Dzhemiliev was prevented from entering the Crimea. Three men were recently remanded in custody for 2 months with the prosecution and court seeming unclear whether the men were accused of ‘extremism’ or of an alleged incident back in early May.
It seems ominously clear that Moscow is trying to intimidate the Crimean Tatars into silent submission or into exile.
With world-renowned Crimean Tatar leaders banished from their homeland; disappearances and abductions of young Crimean Tatars; armed searches of mosques, religious schools and private homes and dodgy prosecutions, how could western countries even consider easing sanctions against Russia?
Tanks drive from a rebel-territory to Donetsk near the town of Shakhtarsk, eastern Ukraine. Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images
Volodymyr Verbyany and Kateryna Choursina, for Businessweek.
Russia plans to extend long-range bomber patrols as far as the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern Pacific Ocean, its defense minister said, as NATO accused Vladimir Putin’s government of sending more troops into Ukraine.
With Ukraine warning its conflict is close to returning to open war, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his country’s military will start conducting regular long-range bomber patrols along Russia’s borders and over the Arctic Ocean. His ministry rejected an assertion from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s top general that it was moving combat troops and heavy weapons into Ukraine’s rebel-held east.
“In this situation, we have to maintain a military presence in the western part of the Atlantic and the eastern part of the Arctic Ocean, in the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico,” Shoigu said, according to a statement on the Russian Defense Ministry website.
Pressure has been growing between Russia and the U.S. and the European Union as Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels in its eastern regions accuse each other of gearing up for a renewed military push that risks adding to the death toll of more than 4,000. The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency session in New York today over the conflict.
Friction over the region’s fate is driving a wedge between Russia and its former Cold War foes in their worst geo-political standoff since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Ukraine says President Vladimir Putin is stoking the unrest to create a potential frozen conflict that will thwart the former Soviet republic’s efforts to deepen ties with the EU. Putin denies his country is involved militarily.
“We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air-defense systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine,” U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, told reporters in Bulgaria today. “We do not have a good picture at this time of how many. We agree that there are multiple columns that we have seen.”
The separatists and their Russian backers are amassing troops in the areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions they’ve seized, Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak told a government meeting in Kiev earlier today.
With the conflict pushing the hryvnia weaker and spurring inflation, Ukraine raised its discount rate by 1.5 percentage point to 14 percent, the highest level since 2014, the central bank said in a statement today.
The yield on Ukraine’s dollar-denominated note maturing July 2017 jumped 154 basis points to 17.67 percent by 7:14 p.m. in Kiev, bringing the eight-day increase to 4.28 percentage points. The hryvnia, which is down 18 percent this month in the world’s largest decline, was unchanged at 15.85 per dollar.
“Investors are voting with their feet — they now expect further Russian military intervention, and expect the West to do nothing to help Ukraine,” Timothy Ash, London-based chief economist for emerging markets at Standard Bank (STAN) Group Ltd., said by e-mail today. Bondholders are increasingly concerned a war could lead to the “collapse of a state” that would “not be able to pay” its debts, he said.
Russia’s ruble, which has fared worse than any other currency during the past three months, was 1 percent stronger at 46.2208 per dollar at 5:36 p.m. in Moscow.
There’s no evidence confirming Russia has sent troops into Ukraine, news service RIA Novosti cited Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying. The ministry no longer pays attention to Breedlove’s comments, Konashenkov said.
If Russia did move in troops “it would be another example of Russia’s blatant disregard for international law,” Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren told reporters today in Washington.
“We’ve seen the Russians operating in and around Ukraine for months,”he said. “We’ve called regularly on Russians to contribute to stability, not continuing to contribute to instability.”
Warren announced today that next month an Air Force F-16 unit will be training with the Estonia Air Force in an exercise that practices close air support tactics.
Pope Francis meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican, on Nov. 25, 2013. © AFP PHOTO POOL / CLAUDIO PERI
Thomas L. Friedman, OP-ED COLUMNIST
Reading the papers these days I find that the two world leaders who stir the most passion in me are Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.
One is everything you’d want in a leader, the other everything you wouldn’t want. One holds sway over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the other over nine time zones. One keeps surprising us with his capacity for empathy, the other by how much he has become a first-class jerk and thug. But neither can be ignored and both have an outsized influence on the world today.
First, the pope. At a time when so many leaders around the world are looking to promote their political fortunes by exploiting grievances and fault lines, we have a pope asking his flock to do something hard, something outside their comfort zone, pushing them to be more inclusive of gays and divorced people.
Yes, Francis was rebuffed by conservative bishops at a recent Vatican synod when he asked them to embrace the notion that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” adding, “are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?”
But, as an editorial in this paper noted: “The very fact that Francis ordered church leaders to address these challenges seems a landmark in Vatican history.” The pope asked that rejected language be published for all to see, while also cautioning against “hostile inflexibility — that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God.”
“Hostile inflexibility?” Whose leadership does that describe? Look at Putin’s recent behavior: His military was indirectly involved in downing a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and his K.G.B. has not only been trying to take a bite out of Ukraine but is nibbling on Estonia, Georgia and Moldova, all under the guise of protecting “Russian speakers.”
I opposed NATO expansion because I believed that there are few global problems that we can solve without the help of Russia. By expanding NATO at the end of the Cold War, when Russia was weak, we helped to cultivate a politics there that would one day be very receptive to Putin’s message that the West is ganging up on Russia. But, that said, the message is a lie. The West has no intention of bringing Ukraine into NATO. And please raise your hand if you think the European Union plans to invade Russia.
Yet Putin just exploits these fears for two reasons. First, he has a huge chip on his shoulder — no, excuse me; he has a whole lumberyard there — of resentment that Russia is no longer the global power it once was. But rather than make Russia great again by tapping its creative people — empowering them with education, the rule of law and consensual politics to realize their full potential — he has opted for the shortcut of tapping his oil and gas wells and seizing power from his people.
And instead of creating a Russia that is an example to its neighbors, he relies on the brute force that his oil and gas can still buy him. While he rails against NATO, he is really afraid of European Union expansion — that Ukrainians would rather embrace the E.U. market and democracy rules than their historical ties to Russia because they know that through the E.U. they can realize potentials that would never be possible with Russia.
By seizing Crimea and stoking up nationalism, Putin was not protecting Russia from NATO. He was protecting himself from the viruses of E.U. accountability and transparency, which, if they took hold in Ukraine, could spread to Moscow, undermining his kleptocracy.
Normally, I wouldn’t care, but when the world is dividing between zones of order and disorder, and the world of order needs to be collaborating to stem and reverse disorder, the fact that Putin is stoking disorder on Russia’s borders, and not collaborating to promote order in the Middle East, is a real problem. What’s more worrying is that the country he threatens most is Russia. If things go bad there — and its economy is already sagging under Western sanctions — the world of disorder will get a lot bigger.
That is why Putin’s leadership matters, and so does the pope’s. I’m focused on Putin because I think he is making the world a worse place for bad reasons, when he could make a difference in Europe and the Middle East with just an ounce more decency and collaboration. America, too, has plenty to learn from the pope’s humility, but say what you will, we’re still focused on trying to strengthen the global commons, whether by protecting people from jihadists in Iraq or fighting Ebola in Africa. We could do more. Putin needs to do a lot more.
“The best leaders don’t set timid and selfish goals that are easy to meet but instead set bold and inclusive goals that are hard to achieve,” remarked Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics, who has just written a book on leadership, “Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most.” “We’re all looking for ways to make sense of a world without a center, but we’ll only find that in people who lead with authentic humility and reckless generosity.”