The invisible weapons:
Does Ukraine have enough resources and means to fight information warfare?
Ukraine's role in the information warfare
Information warfare, in general, is not a novelty. Since time immemorial, deception and propaganda helped commanders achieve success in battles. The military quickly realized the opportunities that the skillful use of information can bring. With time and the development of information transmission technologies, "invisible warfare" methods improved.
One of the most interesting and, most importantly, proven information operations was the naval battle between the Greek and Turkish troops near the island of Paphos in 1974. The Greeks conducted reconnaissance and planted misinformation so well that as a result, a Turkish aircraft attacked the Turkish fleet. A Turkish destroyer was lost and two more damaged, an aircraft was lost and about a hundred marineskilled. It is also worth mentioning the Operation Desert Storm carried out by the Americans in Iraq in 1991. In this case, free radio sets tuned to a fixed frequency were distributed among the locals, which allowed American propaganda to reach the ears of the Iraqis. Britons don't lag behind either. They can be credited with organizing one of the largest operations that was called Barras and held in 2000 in Sierra Leone. Launched as a prisoners of war search and rescue effort, it developed into a complex multi-stage operation involving deep reconnaissance, legendizing, using strong cover contingent, complex logistics schemes for personnel transfer, mobile phones tracking, and an assault by paratroopers and Special Forces. All of that for the sake of five British soldiers. They were rescued, and the British captured so many terrorists, recalls one of the participants, that they had to liquidate some of them because of the lack of room in helicopters. In 2010–2011, the world was shocked by the news: for the first time, a computer virus was able to penetrate a secure NPP management informational system in the Iranian city of Bushehr. The notorious Stuxnet caused enough damage to put the clock of the Iranian nuclear program a few years back. Later, investigations into the causes of faults helped identify the traces of the same virus in energy management systems of a number of European countries.
In fact, there are more such examples than you would think. Some of them involve Ukraine. It is enough to mention one of the most successful brainwashing operations, the "Russian spring." Its good timing allowed Russian forces to capture an entire peninsula virtually without a single shot and with no losses, creating the prerequisites for the outbreak of hostilities in Eastern Ukraine. What exactly was the key to the success of this campaign? Obviously, it was carefully planned and prepared. The work with the Crimean population began back in the 2000s and moved into its active phase after the Orange Revolution. Under Yanukovych, Russia implemented the final part of the operation, with Maidan only making some adjustments to the annexation plans.
This daring scheme became possible only owing to the powerful information impact of the aggressor country. The main messages of the Russian TV at that time were: "Train of Friendship", "Right Sector", "Berkut defended Crimea", "Kyiv banned the Russian language", "Crimean self-defense" and "Military uniform that can be bought in any store." Today they are almost forgotten, but back then they infiltrated the prepared minds and bore bitter fruit, making people distrust the authorities and even their own eyes and trust the actions of the "good czar" Putin and resulting in the referendum and the "Crimea is ours" euphoria.
Then the turn of Donbas came. The messages there included "a crucified boy", "American private military companies", "a piece of land and slaves", "raped pensioners", and "a stormtrooper who downed the Boeing under the supervision of a Spanish air traffic controller." Each "blockbuster" of the Russian propaganda left a long trail of blood. Messages heard from TV screens prejudiced locals against their neighbors, ensured the flow of mercenaries to the "people's republics" and helped unleash a real war. Today, despite the somewhat decreased intensity of the conventional shooting war at the front, the informa-
tion battle never subsides for a second. The Russian "trolls factory," which had its first office in Olgino, a historic district of St. Petersburg, generates a daily stream of negative information on predefined topics. Hundreds of professionals write articles and provide blogs and comments on the latest developments in social networks. This is not always done professionally, and quite often one can see people of completely different age, gender or place of residence suddenly and simultaneously disseminating exactly the same ideas, with identical spelling mistakes.
Obviously, after following the events of the war in Ukraine for the past three years, the civilized world is finally starting to think about its own future. The evidence of this is the approval by the European Parliament of the resolution to counter Russian propaganda on November 23. In this document, Russian funds and news agencies are recognized as threats at the level of terrorist organizations, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. Now European politicians are facing a hard task: to find funding for this effort. For comparison, the annual budget of Russia Today alone is about EUR 8bn, whereas EU strategic communications task force (whose tasks include identifying the events of information deception on the part of Russia and informing EU audiences thereof) may receive just EUR 8mn this year. While the European politicians, as well as Ukrainian ones, are only getting down to work, all hope rests with volunteers. For example, a Polish journalist Marcin Rey started a Facebook page "Russian fifth column in Poland", where he publishes materials on the activities of "Polish nationalists" with Russian connections.
What can Ukraine oppose to such resources and budgets? Actually, quite a lot. Officially, information warfare in the responsibility of the Main Military Intelligence Directorate and the newly established special operations forces. Unofficially, similar to the conventional front, it has its own volunteers, who already have something to surprise the enemy.
One of the major achievements was the creation from scratch of the intelligence system based on open sources investigation (OSINT, Open Source Intelligence). Bits of information are gathered from mass media and social networks. This type of intelligence has long become a norm for NATO countries, but for Ukraine it is still a novelty. Nevertheless, the achievements of the newly established units are impressive. They helped confirm the presence of the regular Russian army in Donbas and contributed to data harvesting for the international investigation into the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. In this work, the military are helped by volunteers. The most renowned international volunteer community InformNapalm has repeatedly proved its effectiveness. Another volunteer community, StopFake, took on countering information distortion and now distributes the digests of Russian lies in nearly all European languages. Besides, community members regularly hold training sessions on identifying and verifying fake information for foreign and Ukrainian journalists.
A creative response to the Russian propaganda is Army FM radio, another interesting tool of information confrontation. The radio station started off as a channel created by the military for the military in the ATO area. Today, Army FM is gradually gaining popularity among Donbas residents. Increasingly often, this military channel can be heard in cafes and shops in Donetsk Oblast. They had problems with obtaining frequencies in some cities, but now the radio's coverage grows. This means that people who live in the country’s trouble spot will finally be able to hear objective news.
The training of "information fighters" is gradually improving. The process is greatly complicated by the uniqueness of the profession and the large scope of necessary skills. Unlike teaching gunners or drivers, training information warfare specialists takes longer and requires more resources. Much more time is needed to restore the potential of an information and psychological operations unit than, say, of a tank element. However, with the right approach, such experts can deliver considerable benefits. Today, foreign partners, especially instructors from Canada, Lithuania and the United States, help conduct the training. The acquired knowledge is tested during the annual Ukrainian-US Rapid Trident military exercise. However, according to its participants, not all foreign counterparts are willing to share their expertise, while some instructors say that they don't know very well themselves how to deal with the threats that Ukraine is facing.
Of course, numerous problems remain, the key one being the lack of understanding of the information warfare importance by the highest state and military leadership. In most cases, operations are held not owing to, but despite the old state machinery. Unlike NATO officers, not all Ukrainian top-level commanders understand the advantages of using information weapons. Information warfare professionals are regarded as morale officers and are given odd tasks or prevented from work altogether.
Another sore spot is funding. Same as at the conventional front line, officers do large amounts of work on their own initiative and at their own expense. Volunteers help a lot as well. One recent example is the distribution of leaflets over Donetsk with drones during May 9 celebration. The operation was conducted by the Victory Sisters volunteer fund, since the Armed Forces currently have no UAVs to perform such tasks.
In this way, despite the continuous information impact of the enemy, Ukraine was able to withstand and, with the help from partners, to start developing its own potential in the field of information and psychological warfare. Given its policy line and geographic position, Ukraine will have to, one way or another, provide a shield to protect the Western world from Russia's ambitions, whether as part of NATO and other alliances or on its own. This means the need for continuous improvement of its own means of information warfare: training of the military, improvement of technical means, and support from the authorities. In turn, the Ukrainian society, from ordinary citizens to country leaders, should also learn to filter and check the information, and to be resistant to external information attacks.
The annual budget of Russia Today alone is about EUR 8bn, whereas EU strategic communications task force (whose tasks include identifying the events of information deception on the part of Russia and informing EU audiences thereof) may receive just EUR 8mn this year
Army FM. Launched as a channel created by the military for the military in the ATO area, this radio is gaining popularity among Donbas residents and acts as a creative response to the Russian propaganda