Russian Disinformation Continues To Stall Resource Mobilization In Ukraine – OpEd

By

Disinformation tactics have proliferated across social media in the West, forcing Western powers to contend with the significant challenges they pose. Social media and disinformation are pivotal elements in Russia’s hybrid warfare strategy against the West. Consequently, Ukraine is now engaged in a dual struggle: defending its territory on the battlefield and combating the internal threat of Russian disinformation.

The Urgent Need To Mobilize 

Ukraine’s military has vowed to create 10 new brigades to defend against Russia’s offensives. Russia has continued to ramp up its offensive on Kharkiv, further stretching Kyiv’s forces. Halting the Russian offensive around Kharkiv is now Ukraine’s ‘number one task,’ according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

General Oleksandr Pavliuk, commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, echoed similar words in an interview with The Economist:

“One of the most urgent tasks on the general’s desk is raising ten new brigades in preparation for the Russian offensive. Although manpower has been a concern since December, when mobilization largely stalled, General Pavliuk insists equipment, not men, is the main bottleneck.”

Aid Stalls

Europe in February passed $54 billion in additional aid, and has been stretched out over a three-year horizon into 2027, with Ukraine receiving the first tranche of 4.5 billion euros in March. The U.S. passed $64 billion in aid for Ukraine in April. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes Ukraine can hold the line in the east, but that there has been a cost in the delay of getting aid to Ukraine.

The New York Times reported that three weeks after the US approved over $60 billion in arms, the aid has “barely begun to arrive.” General Kyrylo Budanov also acknowledged that Ukrainian armed forces are stretched thin and that they don’t have any more reserves to use to shore up the Kharkiv front.

In an interview, Serhii Kuzan, chair of the think tank Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center and former adviser to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, gave context on the divide between the urgent need to mobilize and adequate resource procurement.

“If we are mobilizing more people, we need to give them the outfits and supplies they need. You can’t just mobilize men without giving them what they need,” Kuzan said.

Disinformation as a Tactic To Halt Mobilization

Serhii Kuzan also said that “Russia focuses their information war on two themes: to discredit mobilization in Ukraine and to discredit and undermine support abroad for Ukraine.”  

Ukrainian social media is also awash with videos showing military officers forcefully rounding up men on the streets. These videos then spread like wildfire across social media to try and undermine trust in Ukrainian authorities and to discredit mobilization. Fake videos of forced enrollment have also spread on Ukrainian social media.

However, Kuzan pointed out that Russian web agents promote the content in Ukraine and abroad, but that these are edge cases.

“We will not see the thousands of videos or cases where individuals willingly go and sign up to join the army,” said Kuzan, “but we will see a few videos of people who are resisting mobilization and those go viral.”

Kuzan noted that Russia intends to demoralize the Ukrainian population into submission. Kuzan remarked, “This is war, we are not living in peace.”  

Vasyl Shyshola, commander of an aerial reconnaissance unit for Ukraine’s 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, also commented on the impact of Russia’s disinformation campaign against Ukraine’s mobilization efforts.

“In society, this has caused a shift in priorities. No one even discusses Russia’s attack on Ukraine anymore,” Shyshola said.

He noted that phrases like “the enemy is in Kyiv, not in Moscow” have recently appeared out of nowhere.

“Potential conscripts are more afraid of the military recruitment office with a folder and pen in hand than of the Russian army getting closer every day. No one is even troubled by their successes on the front. This situation frankly scares me,” said Shyshola.

Shyshola noted that Ukraine recently updated its mobilization law while Russia opened a new front in Kharkiv. He noted that “However, bloggers and social media are only abuzz with questions about who falls under the mobilization and how bad the government is for forcing them to face death. As if we have a choice whether to fight or not…”

Russia Exploiting Its Authoritarian Status

Russia as an authoritarian state can control the narratives to what it wants its public to see and control the information flow. Ukraine as a democratic state cannot. Kuzan broke that social difference down, explaining that Ukraine as a democratic state simply can’t “shut down channels, as we are a free country.”

The Financial Times reported that one of Germany’s most senior diplomats has warned that Russian disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining support for Ukraine in Europe have significantly increased in scale, sophistication, and stealth. A network of over 50,000 fake accounts posted up to 200,000 times a day, attempting to convince Germans that their government’s support for Ukraine was “undermining German prosperity and risking nuclear war.”

The only way to fight Russia’s disinformation and lies is with the truth. As Kuzan pointed out, it’s important to get the word out, inform journalists and educate the public. That is how Ukraine will fight back on the disinformation front. 

David Kirichenko

David Kirichenko is a Ukrainian-American freelance journalist, researcher and Eastern Europe expert. He is an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *