Text by Agne Dovydaityte
Edited by Darya Malyutina
“I encourage our guests to consider making a trip to Ukraine, despite the war that we have going on there. Kyiv is a very safe place. In the West, the media tend to exaggerate – the perception is that if the country is at war, you can see planes and tanks rolling over. But it’s all about perception.” On 5 November 2015, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, the co-founder of the Ukraine Crisis Media Center, opened the discussion titled Hybrid Warfare: Media and the Ukraine Crisis at London School of Economics by suggesting to his audience that a visit to the country can be a good way of challenging the stereotypically grim picture painted in the news.
Even though hybrid warfare is not a new term, in the last couple of years it has become commonly associated with the conflict in Ukraine.
Even though hybrid warfare is not a new term, in the last couple of years it has become commonly associated with the conflict in Ukraine. Despite that, the term initially spread out at least as early as 2005, and was used to describe Hezbollah‘s strategy in the 2006 Lebanon War. A blend of conventional, irregular, and cyber warfare now is known as a more effective and hard to respond to war tactic.
Myroshnychenko discussed the stages of hybrid warfare and explained how it has been applied to Ukraine. The first stage is known as preparation and includes identifying the weak points of an enemy. “Ukraine has many weak points,” he said, “and the weakest ones are poor governance, high level of corruption, and poor administration.” This stage also involves creating mass media, engaging with the public, and preparing the ground. “Notably, at the first stage pretty much everything done is legal,” pointed out the speaker.
Ukraine has many weak points and the weakest ones are poor governance, high level of corruption, and poor administration.
As Myroshnychenko made clear in his speech, the second stage of hybrid war is mostly about action as such, including organising protests, infiltrating intelligence, supplying weapons to the proxies, creating links to criminal gangs and involving them, blocking armed forces, and creating a confusion and surprise element.
Finally, the third stage involves legitimisation of self-proclaimed leaders, and organisation of referendums or mock elections.
“In Russia’s case, public diplomacy was employed not to influence or persuade the other party, but to confuse, mislead and create divergent narratives of reality,” said Myroshnychenko. It was evidenced by the president Putin’s contradictory statements, at first denying but later on admitting Russian involvement in the annexation of Crimea.
The second speaker, Eleanor Knott, a PhD Candidate in Political Science in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics, focused on the Western media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine. Knott agreed with Myroshnychenko’s statement that the concept of hybrid warfare, while not new, has become viral just after the Ukraine crisis. She highlighted that the ability to deny the conflict, get involved in the information war, and spread propaganda is as important part of the conflict as the military involvement.
Ability to deny the conflict, get involved in the information war, and spread propaganda is as important part of the conflict as the military involvement.
In the course of her research, Knott noticed that Western media and audiences that have been far from involvement in the conflict lacked knowledge about Ukraine, picturing the conflict in binary terms like a spit between pro-Russian and pro-European actors, encouraging or opposing military support for Ukraine, whereas the reality was more complex.
“For a new kind of war we need a new kind of response,” Knott said while explaining the importance of understanding informational involvement in the conflict as well as the military one.
The speaker also briefly talked about personal involvement of both sides via social media, which has increased dramatically since the beginning of the crisis.
Finally, Oksana Kyzyma, the Press Secretary of the Embassy of Ukraine to the UK, talked about the role of Ukrainian embassies abroad in communicating the Ukrainian perspective of the crisis. Kyzyma started her talk by highlighting the importance of discussions concerning the ongoing conflict, even after media‘s attention has mostly shifted to Syria and Russia‘s actions there.
“As it is the first authentic internet war in Europe, the only effective weapon against propaganda appears to be the truth,” she said.
“The British media are doing their best to cover the conflict, but there’s still not enough. Not enough is talked about human rights in Crimea, for instance.”
Kyzyma provided an example of a recent edition of an Oxford University Press Geography student textbook that has been published showing Crimea as a part of Russia. She also mentioned that Ukrainian hostages in Russia like Oleg Sentsov and Nadiya Savchenko have not been getting enough media coverage and public attention.
Talking about her role, the Press Secretary stressed the importance of having Ukraine appear in the news not just in the context of war but also in the context of culture and traditions. This idea rounded up the discussion, connecting it to Myroshnychenko’s opening words and invitation to visit Ukraine in order to understand not just its problems but also its beauty and potential as an aspiring European country.